Research in cultural policy

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In a world conference on cultural policy held in 1982 and run by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) delegates agreed that:

Culture gives man the ability to reflect upon himself. It is through culture that man expresses himself, becomes aware of himself, recognizes his incompleteness, questions his own achievements, seeking untiringly for new meanings and creates works through which he transcends his limitations. (UNESCO, 1982)

Broadly speaking, culture is connected to policy in two registers: the anthropological and the aesthetic. In the anthropological register culture is a marker of how we live our lives, the senses of place and person. These are articulated between populations (Wallerstein, 1989). On the other hand, in the aesthetic register, culture becomes a marker of differences and similarities in taste and status within populations and social groups themselves (Wallerstein, 1989).

Cultural policy translates to institutional support that is channelled to aesthetic creativity and/or collective ways of life. It is embodied in a series of systemic bureaucratic actions adopted by organizations to achieve their goals (Miller and Yudice, 2002). Through the implementation of policies, organizations solicit, train, distribute, finance, describe and reject actors and activities that go under the signs of artist or artwork (Miller and Yudice, 2002). Organizations, which can vary from governments, trade unions, and foundations to businesses, aid, fund, control, promote, teach and evaluate creative persons; indeed they often decide the criteria that make possible the use of the word ‘creative' (Miller and Yudice, 2002). 

Often, cultural policy entails the management of the population through suggested behaviour (Miller and Yudice, 2002). It ‘serves and nurtures a sense of belonging through educational and other cultural regimens that are predicated on the insufficiency of the individual against the benevolent historical backdrop of the sovereign state' (Miller and Yudice, 2002; 15)

Policy practices can also be unintentional in nature. This does not mean, however, that they are ideologically neutral. Policies can also maintain or modify ideological systems on an ad hoc basis. Finally, policies are often characterized by performativity rather than constativity and are frequently made on the run in response to unforeseen pressures (Miller and Yudice, 2002).

The Commodification Of Culture

In the last thirty years, the public sectors of UK and Malta have witnessed a bold process of change, albeit in different forms and at different speeds. This process of change has inevitably affected the role of the public sector in dealing with the arts (Gray, 2000). The implications of this change may extend far beyond the surface reorganisations of the respective bureaucratic systems (Gray, 2000). In the cultural and arts policy, the basic idea underlying this process of change is the replacement of use-value by exchange-value, wherein the aesthetic or personal worth and value are replaced by those of the material and impersonal market-place. The commodifying project has inevitably put multiple pressures on the art world because it is expected to change to fit in with the new conception (Gray, 2000).

This process of commodification is given concrete form by the political choices, decisions and actions of organisational members in both the public and the public sectors and can take a number of dimensions, including, organisational, financial, managerial and ideological (Gray, 2000). In order to understand better the process of commodification we have to go back to the origins of policy-making in the eighteenth century, the period in which Michel Foucault located the rise of governmentality (Foucault, 1991).

The Rise Of Governmentatily In The West And The Art Of Policy-Making

Perhaps, one of the most useful concepts to understand the claims and actions of Western states in the cultural domain is Foucault's concept of governmentality (Foucault, 1991). He developed this concept to explain the way in which during the ‘Enlightenment' “modern states began to worry about individuals” (Foucault, 1991; p. 89). While the daily economic and spiritual government was being redefined, the state emerged as a centralizing tendency that sought to normalize itself and others (Foucault, 1991).

In the eighteenth century the government of territory became secondary to the government of things and the social relations between them (Foucault, 1991). Health and wealth became social goals which could be attained through the nature of capacities of the population (Foucault, 1991). Foucault believed that ‘a society's “threshold of modernity” has been reached when the life of the species is wagered on its own political strategies' (Foucault, 1978; 9). This was the beginning of political economy (Miller and Yudice, 2002). More than had ever been before, the status and legitimacy of a government began to depend on the basis of technique (Foucault, 1994).

There is a clear connection between the rise of the sovereign state and the emergence of modern capitalism. In fact one of the early concerns of the state was to deliver a docile and healthy labour force to business. The entire ‘social body' was viewed as insufficient and consequently treated as such (Foucault, 1991). Thus the idea of fitness to perform was expanded to include education and hence culture (Miller and Yudice, 2002). Since the eighteenth century, centres of power used various forms of governance in the artistic field to ‘educate' the citizenry into a set of tastes (Miller and Yudice, 2002). Indeed, we may view taste formation as cultural policing or cultural policy. It is perhaps not surprising that the study of the Western cosmology of taste appeared at the same time as modern Western government (Miller and Yudice, 2002). Immanuel Kant wrote in his Critique of Judgement that taste is ‘conformity to law without the law' (Kant, 1914; 65). According to him aesthetic activity, if properly monitored through education, produces an effect and a ‘knowledge' in the human subject derived from universally valid ‘morally practical precepts' that are independent of particular interests. Later, Karl Marx (1978) picked up on this concept when he was expressing himself on the importance of the identification of the subject in collective loyalty. He (1978) wrote that ‘paragraphs of law' (p. 27, 35) are not enough to create a ‘moral power'. There should be ‘organic laws supplementing the Constitution' (p.35), in other words ‘cultural policy' (Miller and Yudice, 2002).

Raymond Williams, on the other hand, had a dim view of such a prospect. He believed that dominant cultures use philosophy, religion, education, art and advertising to make dominance seem natural and normal to the heterogeneous groups that constitute society. This process leads to a ‘consensus' which evolves into an ‘ethical state' that deserves universal loyalty and transcends class identifications (Lloyd and Thomas, 1998).

National cultural policies are a privileged terrain of hegemony: they offer a means of reconciliation for contending cultural identities within a hegemonic setup by holding up the nation as an essence that transcends particular interests (Miller and Yudice, 2002). Aesthetic unity has been frequently used in attempts to assimilate anthropological differences. The teaching of literature in public education is perhaps one of the most obvious examples. Its teaching has served as training in both language and in norms (Miller and Yudice, 2002). Effectively, teaching literature involves a process whereby a public discussion of the private life of the bourgeoisie is offered and presented for emulation. This mise-en-scene of the quandaries that face an economic class-in-the-making is provided in the name of ethical legitimacy (Miller and Yudice, 2002).

In keeping with the project of governmentality, the emergence of a philosophy of taste in the eighteenth century shifted social authority from the theocratic forces within the state to the social as a privileged terrain where to regulate conduct. The pedagogy and exercise of taste are based on the premise that the subject internalises a monitorial function through culture (Miller and Yudice, 2002). Kant (1914) advocated for the cultivation of universal taste through a sentimental education and believed that universal taste should serve as a basis for all legislators.

Matthew Arnold, a nineteenth century British poet, cultural critic and schools administrator, firmly believed that culture could counter social anarchy and correct the shortcomings of all social classes because culture engages all of us in the ‘pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world' (Arnold, 1971; 6). He believed that the state, as the organ of national right reason, could use culture to bring harmony and unity between the three social classes and ‘design' the modern liberal individual who could understand the need for an authoritarian antisepsis to populist excess (Miller and Yudice, 2002). While Kant believed that the internal monitor within each person and its ethos of appreciation provide a collective, national, categorical imperative, Arnold believed that only ‘culture, self and state' can adequately serve enlightened authority (Miller and Yudice, 2002).

Jaqcues Donzelot (1979) expounds on the process by which cultural policy is used in the production of better subjects. He wrote that ‘policing' is none other than a set of ‘methods for developing the quality of the population and the strength of the nation' (Donzelot, 1979; 6-7). In fact, he affirmed that the nineteenth century Western Europe, the middle-class reformers tried to avoid industrial strife and class struggle by teaching the working class to value the nation. Policing grew out of a struggle against the unreason of ‘the public mind'. Subjects were to be informed of their irrational aspects so that they could start a process which could lead them to learn how to master life and its drives (Donzelot, 1979). Subjects are to become well-tempered, cultural subjects who could be governed and formed through institutions and discourses (Miller and Yudice, 2002).  

Cultural policy has always been concerned with the legitimate interests of the polity. For instance, even the laissez-fairian bourgeoisies of the nineteenth century sought a national ideology that connected monetary freedoms to social controls through national ideology and the ethical uplift of art (McGuigan, 1996).  The nineteenth century's ‘mature' capitalism required a specialised division of person and labour in all areas of life.  By the middle of the twentieth century of the United States became the international centre of cultural gravity (Mills, 1970). That moment was marked by an emergence in overcoded economic rationalism which led to a crisis between the logics of civility and management. It was simply a case where the logic of developing technology jarred with the values it was supposed to serve. In the Postmodern period priority was given to a rationality dedicated to efficient centralisation. At the same time freedom and reason, which had been inherited from the Enlightenment, had ‘virtually collapsed' (ibid).

Cultural Policy And Postmodernism

The Postmodern turn is often criticized for bringing destructive changes to society and culture. For, instance Christopher Lasch (1978) lamented the turn away from rational citizenship towards a society of the spectacle's trade in images; a course hastened by mass culture. This change could be attributable to the ‘bureaucratisation of the spirit' which resulted from the government programs that established criteria for social service. Individuals became experts of their own performance and that of others, while the ‘whole man' broke into multiple identities which prefigured cultural politics based on gender, race, sexuality and so on (Lasch, 1978). 

Whether one shares Lasch's negative assessment of postmodernism or not, it is undeniable that the ‘cultural policy's synergistic complex of government programs, media representations and market lures has accommodated itself to, and in the process blunted the radical potential of, this repudiation of the well-rounded individual' (Miller and Yudice, 2002; 14).

The various performative forces of normalisation encourage universal adoption of bourgeois manners or determine levels of access to cultural resources on the basis of demographic categorisations. This normalising power sets an ideal which must be strived for despite the fact that it could never be attained (Miller and Yudice, 2002). It shows the subject his or her ‘ethical incompleteness' which is aimed to instil a drive towards perfection (as the best possible patriot, consumer or ideologue). This process inscribes a ‘radical indeterminacy' in the subject which cultural policy seeks to correct through educational and cultural regimens in the name of loyalty to a more complete entity - the nation. These regimens are instrumental in the formation of a ‘collective public subjectivity' through the ‘departments of human interests amenable to governmental control' (Lasch, 1978; 68). These regimens may also manage change by promoting new modes of expression (Miller and Yudice, 2002).

Both the collectivist ethos and Mill's individualistic utilitarianism share the principle that ethico-aesthetic exercise is necessary for the responsible individual (Llyoyd & Thomas, 1998), while ‘good taste' becomes both a sign of and a means towards better citizenship (Yudice, 1990; 139).

Justin Lewis and Toby Miller (2003) criticise the establishment and regulation of a cultural economy that is based on advertising. This, they say, encourages a form of cultural citizenship that is based on the purchase of commodities. More specifically it encourages a world in which social problems are solved through individual acts of consumption rather than through collective action or public advocacy. So, for instance, crime is dealt with through the consumption of things that make the consumer feel safer rather than through a collective effort that addresses the social causes behind such phenomena (Lewis and Miller, 2003).

Funding Alibis

Ideas of a universal philosophy of taste and the technology of ethical incompleteness to impose it still have to compete with social politics. In Western cultural-capitalist states, which pride themselves as sources of freedom of expression and take a non-paternalistic approach to public policy, cultural policy raises a crucial dilemma. Should the state allow its citizens the opportunity to determine their own cultural wants and needs? Should it adopt a cultural policy at all? These states are inclined to take two rhetorical positions (Miller and Yudice, 2002). The first is to use the market system to identify and allocate public preferences for culture; a sort of police officer who patrols the precincts, decides who owns what and how objects are exchanged. The second encourages a dirigiste role for the state. In this position, the state coerces the public into aestheticization because it believes that the public is unable to appreciate certain artefacts identified by the state as transcendentally laden with value (Miller and Yudice, 2002). Richard Dworkin (1985) calls this the lofty approach. Proponents of this approach argue that a command culture is needed because market processes reward desire over improvement, and hence pleasure over sophistication.  Some critics accuse states that take up this approach of ‘cultural magistracy. Conventional capitalists argue that it is paternalistic to force people to subsidise an artefact, purported to be a piece of timeless art, through their generic tax burden on the grounds that it will not survive unless they are required to admire it (Miller and Yudice, 2002). However, within this economic approach, art can be reconceived as a public good if it makes a collective contribution to the aesthetico-intellectual functioning of a community, through the joint impact of popular and high culture (Miller and Yudice, 2002). In this view, art parallels popular culture's impact; art contributes to intellection while the other contributes to fun. The idea is to let the market gauge popular taste while the state sponsors elite taste and heritage appreciation. The idea that culture as fun is taken care of by the market whereas culture as progress is taken care of by the state is central to much cultural policy (Miller and Yudice, 2002).

There are basically two ways how to assess the contribution of the aesthetic to the collectivity. The first one is that aesthetico-cognitive cultures embrace symbolic practices of semantic density and formal complexity that endow its producers and interpreters with critical thinking, a faculty which is ultimately necessary in a properly functional polity (Miller and Yudice, 2002). On the other hand, popular forms of culture lack the ‘excess' which escapes the logic of commodity or the rationalisation of distribution. Critics also lament the fact that English, US and Australian critical studies practitioners have surrendered to this logic and have in actual fact ceased to engage in a serious way with the aesthetic dimension (Miller and Yudice, 2002).

However, the assertion that only art can provide the population with the necessary critical faculties is not without its problems. Walter Benjamin (1992) believed that turning points in history bring with them challenges to the optical and tactile ‘apparatus of perception' (p.240). Semantic density and formal complexity are not the only practices that shape cognitive faculties. Critical faculties could be honed by new forms of cultural production, both popular and high, which bring with them new habits of sensorial appropriation. These new forms may not conform to cognitive skills developed in previous historical periods. There are various cognitive styles and they do not all depend on a high-aesthetic training such as, for instance, interactivity (as in theatre and stadium sport) and citationality (pastiche and parody, which were mainstreamed in the digital age). These two have little to do with the internal workings or complexity of a practice (Miller and Yudice, 2002). 

There are many instances, however, where the cultural-capitalist and the dirigiste roles/lofty position operate together. Typically, the market is seen as the most appropriate venue for the cultural industries whereas heritage is taken care of by the states. There has also been, across the globe, an increased monetarisation of heritage fueled mainly by heritage tourism. These schemes involve state assistance, capitalist enterprises and international financial institutional investment agencies in collaboration with non-governmental organisations (Miller and Yudice, 2002).

During the Cold War years freedom inhered to Western modern art came to symbolise freedom and superiority of the Western political system in contrast with the command culture of the Soviet Union. By the end of the Cold War the cultural sector required a new legitimizing narrative. In fact artists were then channelled as service providers to manage the social. It was claimed that the cultural sector could solve social problems, soothe racial strife, reverse urban blight, reduce crime, create jobs, enhance creativity and innovation and perhaps make a profit (Miller and Yudice, 2002). The cultural sector was then turned to managerial professionals. This encouraged the development of a network of art administrators who intercede and mediate in the funding process (Miller and Yudice, 2002). They are “simultaneously clarifying, abetting, modifying, and countering market tastes.” (Miller and Yudice, 2002, p.21)

The funding process is often a contested terrain. For instance, social movements appeal to the state to maintain the varying identities that comprise citizenry while the conservatives prefer a more assimilated unity. Others believe that the cultural context can help to develop and secure a type of social identity where collective senses of self are more important than the individual ones (Miller and Yudice, 2002, p.21).

Rationales In Cultural Policy-Making Tn The West

The field of policy-making has always been a space where diverse interests and values are negotiated between various stakeholders which in the end may win or lose depending on their power and say within the policy-making structures but also depending on the various conceptions of public policy that may inhabit that space at that time (Pratt, 2005). Western cultural policy-makers justify public intervention in cultural policy on various grounds. There are distinctive discourses that are mobilised in the cultural policy-making which however are not applied in a clean-cut distinction. In reality policy-makers draw on a mixture of rationales (Pratt, 2005).

Arguably one of the strongest arguments to make to support the case for public intervention in the arts is to use the economic lens such as for instance treating cultural objects as any other object of trade, or on the voter's preference principle, that is, promoting cultural activities for which there is already a popular demand (Pratt, 2005). Then there is the ideological/political discourse, which is perhaps the oldest established position. Very broadly, it has three faces; humanist, aesthetic and nationalist. This rationale was favoured mostly by nation-states because it was particularly suitable for identity-making and national pride. This rationale's importance is now waning since globalisation and other factors are effectively de-legitimizing the control which nation-states had on their own public sector (Pratt, 2005). The third rationale is the social, in which cultural policy is seen as an arm of the welfare-state. This rationale stands on a few basic core principles of the welfare system, such as for instance ‘excellence' and ‘free service' at the point of access. This system was mostly popular in the UK in the post-war years but it still is in Scandinavian states. All these rationales take a different perspective to public policy and may favour one group or set of practices over others (Pratt, 2005).

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