Cultural Policy Research Paper

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The study of cultural policy is concerned with the instruments (legal, administrative, economic) through which governments provide, regulate, and manage cultural resources and the uses to which they are put. The objectives that are pursued by these means can be divided into three broad, but overlapping, categories—the symbolic, the social, and the economic. In exploring these objectives and the political rationales on which they rest, this research paper examines the history of their development as concerns of government, and the varying interpretations they have received in different political regimes and philosophies.

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1. Cultural Policy And State Symbolism

The cultural policies of contemporary governments are most evidently continuous with those of earlier political systems when supporting cultural activities that symbolize the virtues of a particular nation, people, or political system. The most obvious pre-cursor for these concerns consists in the use of the arts as instruments of state policy associated with the absolutist monarchies of early modern Europe. These were characterized by two contrasting orientations. The first aimed to weaken the nobility by involving its members in a socially demanding and economically debilitating cultural life centered on the court. The second aimed to symbolize the principles underlying the political order through a public theater of power (statues, processions, palaces) which magnified the king’s potency so as to incline his subjects to obedience. Culture, here, symbolizes sovereign power with a view to enhancing its effects.

If this connection between sovereign power, culture, and the arts of governing was most fully developed in France, it was given a new interpretation during the French Revolution. This consisted in the role that was developed for the arts, and culture more generally, of symbolizing the more abstract form of sovereignty that was now vested in a democratic citizenry (McClellan 1994). In this new conception—evident in the policies developed for the Louvre as much as in the debates over language policies, public monuments, and architecture—culture served as the means through which a democratic citizenry made its own power as a sovereign people manifest to itself. But it also allowed that citizenry to exercise a direction over itself through the ideals—of, for example, heroism and sacrifice—the citizen was exhorted to emulate.

These relations between the arts, culture, and sovereign power have undergone a number of mutations in the subsequent development of the rationales underlying state support for specific kinds of cultural provision. The logic underlying continuing state patronage of the art forms that had been most closely linked to court society—ballet, theatre, opera, and the art museum—remains one of forging particular forms of elite sociability, bonding the powerful through shared rituals and symbols. The evidence in all societies where relevant studies have been conducted shows that participation in these cultural institutions is mostly limited to elite social strata (Bourdieu and Darbel 1991). Their role in symbolizing a cultural distinction between such strata and the generality of the population plays an important part in the cultural dynamics of class societies. This is, therefore, an aspect of government involvement in the cultural sphere that is often regarded as in conflict with the democratic principle of equal cultural entitlements for all citizens which, in the postwar period, has become a guiding principle for cultural policy development.

Government support for more spectacular cultural forms, as a means of symbolizing the power of a particular people or nation, has remained an enduring aspect of the cultural policies of modern polities. The festivals of the French Revolution constituted a symbolic use of public space which, in making a citizenry visible to itself, disputed the earlier symbolism of royal processions. The subsequent development of participatory forms of public spectacle— international exhibitions, national celebrations, and spectator sports—has yielded a range of contexts in which a people is made visible to itself and its virtues celebrated in ways which pit them in competition with other nations, races (the prime cases being Nazi Germany or fascist Italy), and political regimes (especially during the Cold War).

Important questions of publicness concerning the forms in which the identity and qualities of a people, citizenry, or nation are to be represented are at stake in these festival, celebratory, and commemorative forms. The relations between the policy structures and processes through which these matters are resolved and the perspectives of political constituencies organized in terms of relations of race, class, gender, or religion have played a crucial role here in redefining both who gets to be counted as citizens and the exemplary virtues that are held up as models for their emulation. A continuing history connects those who criticized the revolutionary festivals for a public iconography of womanhood which portrayed women as mere help-mates to a republican brotherhood of men to late nineteenth-century feminist criticisms of the male-centered norms of publicness associated with inter-national exhibitions and museums. And there is a continuing history connecting both of these to con-temporary debates centered on the adequacy of the forms of representativeness—whether in terms of gender, race, or religion—that are to be aimed for in major forms of national commemoration or celebration. The debates occasioned by Georges Pompidou’s grands projets, by Aboriginal engagements with Australia’s 1988 bicentennial celebrations, or by Britain’s Millennium Dome are all cases in point. As such, they illustrate how ways of making power manifest inherited from an earlier political regime based on a singular source of authority are imbued with a more contested content as a consequence of their relations to a civil society that is plural and divided.

2. Acting On The Social

As well as investing in culture to symbolize power, modern governments have also invested in culture as itself a power that is capable of bringing about changes in conduct and ways of life. These are not entirely different functions. Debates concerning how best to symbolize a citizenry—how best to present to them their collective power and virtue—have been concerned centrally with reinforcing some kinds of con-duct and changing others. The early modern period, however, also saw the development of an orientation toward culture that, although it had precedents in earlier forms of pastoral power, represented a new departure so far as secular forms of cultural administration were concerned. This consisted in the role that was accorded culture in the Polizeiwissenschaft (science of police) of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This aimed to bring a new order to the social body in place of that which had characterized the relationships between different estates in the old social order with its clear rules regarding the forms of behavior, dress, duty, and demeanor appropriate to particular stations in life. It thus concerned itself with ways of life both negatively and positively: negatively in prohibiting particular kinds of behavior (for ex-ample, public drunkenness), and positively by pro-viding the cultural means through which problematic forms of conduct might be transformed through programs of self-improvement. An early nineteenth-century Prussian regulation puts the point well:

In their capacity as ‘Polizei’ authorities of the land the governments are charged with the care and well being of our loyal subjects, in positive as well as negative aspects … . Governments therefore have supervisory powers in matters of public improvement, education, and culture (Knemeyer 1980).

Within the emerging class dynamics of nineteenth-century industrial societies, such conceptions, when translated into the programs of liberal government, typically split the field of culture into two. On the one side, the culture of the working classes presented itself as ways of life that needed to be acted on, often with varied aims in view (combating political sedition, inducing habits of thrift and sobriety), as a means of re-forming the social. On the other, the rational and improving culture that had once formed a part of the bourgeois public sphere (Habermas 1989) appeared in a new historical guise as an instrument of government, providing the means whereby individuals might be led to transform their own conduct (Minihan 1977).

This was the general impetus behind the nineteenth-century development of public libraries, museums, art galleries, concert halls, and public schooling through which, in Europe, governments undertook to make cultural provision for the population as a whole. It was, however, the needs and aspirations of government, rather than any sense of democratic cultural rights of the kind that had been asserted during the French Revolution, that supplied the rationale for this provision. Government action in the cultural sphere was based on the expectation that the improving influence of a rational, enlightening, and elevating culture would lead, through the accumulation of thousands of individual acts of self reform, to a transformation of working class ways of life and, consequently, a re-ordered social body. The guiding principle of state cultural provision in this period accordingly was focused mainly on leading ‘the people’ away from cultural activities and traditions that were popular with subordinate social strata and towards greater participation in elite cultural forms that had received the official sanction of state approval.

It is not until the 1930s that questions concerning the responsibility of governments for maintaining and promoting popular pastimes, traditions, and ways of life came centrally to the fore. The contexts in which this occurred were often nationally specific: the development, in the context of the New Deal in the United States, of community-based cultural programs (Harris 1995); the programs of leisure-time organization (dopola oro) of fascist Italy; and the role of the Popular Front in France in opening up a new politics of popular leisure (Looseley 1995). These tendencies were continued in the Second World War which, if it was ‘the people’s war,’ also brought the question of the people’s culture—and its role in maintaining their morale—to the fore in new ways that made it increasingly imperative for democratic governments both to know about popular ways of life and to nourish them so that they might thrive. This trajectory toward more democratic understandings of the concerns of cultural policy has been continued throughout the postwar period, although by no means consistently or without reversals. Indeed, exceptions to this tendency have often been institutionalized as the administrative apparatuses established to develop government support for art, culture, and leisure have reflected the lingering influence of older elite values. The histories of the Arts Council in Britain and the Australia Council are cases in point. In both cases, the criteria of excellence that have guided their allocations of funds have been at odds with their obligation to meet the cultural needs of all sections of society (Hawkins 1993).

The predominating tendency of the period since the 1960s has been to call into question these socially exclusive conceptions in favor of more democratic conceptions of the range of cultural tastes and values governments should support. While these criticisms initially centered on questions of social class, feminist criticisms brought questions of gender to the fore in the 1970s while, since the 1980s, questions of race and ethnicity have tended to displace the importance that was earlier accorded social class. The responses to these pressures have varied. The cultural policies developed by Jack Lang as a member of Francois Mitterand’s governments provided an influential model in the 1980s in view of the accent they placed on the values of pluralism and democracy (Looseley 1995). The cultural policies developed in Australia under the Labor governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were also innovative in developing cultural policies that recognized the diverse needs of a society with a history of culturally varied migration and an indigenous population with highly distinctive cultural needs and traditions.

The recognition and promotion of cultural diversity—now the major international leitmotif of cultural policy discourse, and one actively promoted by UNESCO (World Commission on Culture and Development 1995)—is not, however, simply a matter of recognizing cultural rights. On the contrary, programs of cultural diversity are now central components in the governing strategies of modern polities. They supply a means for acting on the social—by celebrating cultural diversity, and marshalling a variety of legal and moral sanctions against racist forms of conduct—that is widely accepted as crucially important for managing the relationships between ways of life in contexts where the mix of peoples is increasingly diverse (Gunew and Rizvi 1994).

However, these tendencies are neither universal nor irreversible. The policies and politics of ethnic cleansing are a testimony to the continuing influence of monocultural approaches to managing the relation-ships between peoples with different ways of life that had characterized earlier forms of racism. The new right’s criticisms of political correctness in the United States have also challenged cultural diversity policies. The links that had earlier connected cultural access policies to social justice principles are now also weaker in Europe where policies based on the logic of social inclusion often fail to acknowledge the relevance of social class to either social or cultural distributive issues.

3. Culture And Economic Development

Whatever the importance of the social and civic issues associated with cultural policies, these are now eclipsed by the economic significance of the cultural and media industries. This is not entirely new. Tourism has played a role in the calculations that have guided investments in large cultural infrastructures since the eighteenth-century spa movement and the museum and exhibition boom of the nineteenth century. The industrial issues at stake in the development of new communications technologies have also been clear from the outset: witness the variety of legal and technical barriers developed in Europe to combat the dominance of American cinema.

However, the economic aspects of cultural policy have assumed an altogether unprecedented significance in the closing decades of the twentieth century. There are a number of reasons for this. Some have to do with the demise of more traditional industrial sectors and the increasing importance of cultural industry development to the employment strategies of once prosperous industrial regions. Some have to do with the changing relations of work and leisure, resulting in increased effective demand for cultural activities. This is reflected in the increasing role accorded cultural tourism as a means of attracting visitors to particular tourist destinations. But the key driving force over the 1980s and 1990s has consisted in the intersections of a number of technological developments that have revolutionized communications in ways that have affected profoundly all aspects of the cultural and media sectors of advanced societies (Collins and Murroni 1996). The role of computing and the Internet in the development of the ‘information economy,’ and the convergence of these with new developments in television and telecommunications, have been especially important.

The cumulative effect of these developments has been to forge a stronger connection between cultural policies and economic policies. This is especially evident in contexts where local or national cultural industries are threatened by the more global pattern of cultural flows associated with the new international media order. In France, Australia, and Canada the case for government investment in cultural industries— for example, film and popular music—has been urged as a means of retaining a viable base for their future expansion in the face of American and British imports. The same rationale lies behind policies that restrict the amount of foreign content that can be broadcast on radio or television, or regulations limiting foreign ownership of media. However, it is also clear that, in these cases, the considerations at stake are not only economic. In view of their role in circulating not merely economic value but also cultural values and meanings, viable cultural and media industries are seen as necessary for maintaining and developing nationally, regionally, or locally distinctive heritages and identities. In other contexts, however, economic and cultural considerations may be in tension with one another and in need of mediation. The requirement that tourism policies should be ‘culturally sustainable’—that is, not be promoted to an extent that will detract from the quality of the specific culture or way of life of a particular locality—is a case in point.

Here too, then, questions of ways of life and the relations between them are at stake. The same is true of the increased interest in questions of intellectual property associated with the new media. A part of the concern here has been with the extent to which intellectual property regimes developed in an earlier media environment can provide for sufficient security of title to sustain the viability of investment in cultural forms whose reproducibility opens up the prospects of their free circulation via the Internet. A second area of distinctive concern, however, has been with the intellectual property protocols that are needed to mediate the relations between specific cultural producers and the marketplace in ways that do not prejudice the cultural traditions of the former. The debates that have accompanied the use of the Internet to market the art of the indigenous peoples of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are a case in point, comprising a subset of a broader group of policy questions concerning the relations between new media and indigenous cultures (Michaels 1994).

Considerations of this kind, however, do not ad-dress what is perhaps the most important issue associated with the new media order: the increasing division between ‘information rich’ and ‘information poor’ societies. The fact that there are few, if any, international mechanisms that are capable of ad-dressing this issue underlines the extent to which cultural policies remain, in the main, the instruments of national governments.

4. Culture, State, And Civil Society

The development, over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of these different kinds of governmental involvement in the cultural sphere has occasioned debate concerning the extent to which such involvement is justified and the means through which it is most appropriately exercised. These questions are rehearsed, in the specialist literature, in assessments of the respective virtues of the different models of support for culture that have been developed in connection with different political regimes and philosophies. These range from the view, prevalent in the United States and Japan, that the role of government should be purely facilitative, regulating cultural and media markets by legal and fiscal means to provide the conditions in which the arts and culture might flourish, to the assumption of direct responsibility for funding and directing cultural activities associated with communist regimes.

The main point at issue in these debates concerns the relations between state and civil society that different kinds of state action in the cultural sphere entail. Within the formulations of the science of police, the allocation of a responsibility to the state for the cultural well-being and development of the population formed part of a more general program of government in which the state was to become involved directly in the administration of all aspects of life. There is a significant continuity between these formulations and the approaches to the administration of culture associated with communist regimes of the mid-to-late twentieth century in their aspiration to replace market mechanisms by means of a cultural plan developed by state functionaries in the light of officially-sanctioned criteria of aesthetic and political excellence. This construction of the relations of culture and government entails a denial of the autonomy of civil society as a realm separate from the state. Instead, in the cultural policies of communist regimes, the institutions of civil society, including those of culture, are integrated into the state in order that the citizen might be molded directly in accordance with cultural ideals endorsed and supported by the state. This integration of the institutions of civil society and of the citizen into the state was also a characteristic of fascist cultural policies: the dopolavoro was a clear assault on the autonomy of Italian working-class culture and an attempt to integrate it into the state where it could be subjected to more direct forms of regulation (De Grazia 1981).

In western democracies, the role of liberalism and its criticisms of the totalizing aspirations of the earlier science of police have given rise to a different set of relations between state, culture, and civil society. Within liberal conceptions of government, the autonomy of civil society is to be not so much respected as constructed, organized as a zone of rights and freedoms on which the activity of government must not trespass. This has meant that cultural policies that have aimed to bring about specific changes of conduct have done so in ways which have accepted the independence of civil society. This has entailed fashioning cultural resources into means of acting on the social that work indirectly, through the agency of the citizen’s voluntary activity rather than via state imposition, and at a distance in the sense of accepting the autonomy of the social as a realm of behaviors and relationships that exist independently of the state.

These principles of liberal government have been a constant feature of the cultural policies of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, and Australia. How-ever, their implementation has been, at different historical moments, either muted or modified in view of the expansion of the state’s functions associated with its role in the provision of social welfare and, since the Second World War, corporatist strategies of economic management. They have, however, come into the ascendancy once again with the phase of neoliberalism inaugurated by the Thatcher and Reagan administrations and subsequently greatly assisted by those accounts of globalization which suggest that the global flows of both culture and capital now exceed the regulatory capacities of national governments. The process of rolling the state back out of the lives of its citizens has resulted in a tendency to reduce the levels of direct government funding and support for specific forms of culture in favor of the operation of private cultural markets and corporate or philanthropic forms of sponsorship. In these circumstances,‘audience development’ has be-come the policy buzzword of the 1990s. At the same time, where government funding remains a significant factor, new relations of competition have been fostered to make the institutions of public culture more responsive to the effects of market forces. This has been most notably true of the restructuring of the British broadcasting industry over the period since the 1990 Broadcasting Act (Goodwin 1998). Taking a broader perspective, however, perhaps the most significant changes in the relations of state, culture and civil society at the close of the twentieth century are those evident in China where new forms of cultural consumption associated with the development of new cultural markets now increasingly take the place of state-provided culture.

However, if the policy catch phrase of the 1980s and 1990s has been deregulation, this tendency has not gone unchallenged. Indeed, the consequences of de- regulating the culture and media industries have often been sufficiently problematic to lead to more-or-less instant demands for their re-regulation. There is, however, no escaping the historical shift that is entailed in a policy discourse that now sees the state’s cultural role primarily in terms of the exercise of its regulatory capacities rather than as itself directly a significant agent of cultural production.


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