Culture, Politics and the Cultural Industries

Reviving a critical agenda

Authored by: Graeme Turner

The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415706209
eBook ISBN: 9781315725437
Adobe ISBN: 9781317533986


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It is possible to present a narrative that can trace the genealogy of the study of the cultural industries back to the beginnings of cultural policy studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period when cultural policy occupied centre stage for reformist governments in (at least) the United Kingdom, Australia, and much of western Europe. Cultural policy studies established itself within the university as a field of teaching and research, and the level of pragmatism it displayed in engaging with policy-makers helped it to secure credibility within government. The manner in which it approached the production of culture reflected its Foucauldian theoretical orientation (Bennett, 1998) in that it was mostly, but not exclusively, interested in the role that government played in producing culture; hence its most important interventions concerned heritage-based cultural institutions such as museums and arts funding bodies as well as media regulation and film policy. In the United Kingdom these interests diversified, eventually leading to, among other things, a strand of research that engaged directly with political economy and thus with the industrial production of culture. The second chapter in our narrative, then, would deal with the emergence of the cultural industries paradigm in the United Kingdom from the late 1990s to the present. While just as interested in issues of policy and regulation as those in cultural policy studies, it had a far greater interest in political economy and what actually counted as the cultural industries in this paradigm was also significantly different. It concentrated its attention upon the expanding media and popular entertainment industries, what David Hesmondhalgh describes as industries that ‘deal primarily with the industrial production and circulation of texts’ (2013: 16), and in recent years it has been particularly concerned with examining the emergence of the digital media industries. If we turn to the third and most recent chapter in our story, we find traces of aspects of each of these preceding models in the development of the concept of the creative industries from the early 2000s (see Flew, 2012). The creative industries model understands the necessity of engaging with policy, it has concentrated upon the commercial and industrial response to digital technologies, and it is determined to find points of alignment between both government and industry but, rather than pursuing a fundamental concern with culture, it frames its interest as participating in a commercial and political agenda of innovation and enterprise (Cunningham, 2013).

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