[Ghosts in the Machine: Women & Cultural Policy in Canada & Australia]

By Mackey, Eva; Beale, Alison et al. | Resources for Feminist Research, Winter/Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

[Ghosts in the Machine: Women & Cultural Policy in Canada & Australia]


Mackey, Eva, Beale, Alison, Bosch, Van den, Resources for Feminist Research


Edited by a Canadian communications scholar and an Australian art historian with expertise in arts administration, Ghosts in the Machine: Women and Cultural Policy in Canada and Australia pulls together a collection of chapters that as a whole reflect a wide range of feminist preoccupations regarding culture and policy. The collection has a twofold goal: first, that of documenting diverse women's knowledge of the politics of culture, and second, understanding issues of gender and cultural policy within the context of the global economic restructuring that both nations are experiencing at the end of the twentieth century. Designed in part to counter hegemonic debates in cultural studies that are often dominated by British and American viewpoints, the choice to juxtapose Australia and Canada, countries with similar histories and key cultural issues, is an excellent and potentially very productive one. As a result of these multiple goals, the collection covers a broad spectrum of issues.

One issue is the symbolic representation of women's bodies as the nation, taken up beautifully in Elizabeth Gertsakis' visual piece juxtaposing turn-of-the-century portraits of women with tourist images of waterfalls in Australia. Another fascinating chapter, by Brenda Longfellow, explores the changing and contradictory ways that traditional modernist images of women's bodies as symbols of the nation appear in Canada and Quebec, and analyzes how they are disrupted in the work of women filmmakers Joyce Wieland and Lea Pool. The second issue addressed in the book also concerns representation, but more practically in terms of the low numbers of women involved in the policymaking process and as artists and curators in institutions. Often these issues are raised in first person narratives of struggles to change the policymaking process. Patricia Gillard, for example, examines the experience of being the only woman member of the Broadcast Services Expert Group in Australia, and gives a detailed account of how gender concerns became marginalized and erased despite good intentions. Andra McCartney discusses her research on gender and the institutional relations of electroacoustic composers in Australia. The necessity of incorporating woman artists into programs for new media on a more equitable basis is discussed by Annette Van Den Bosch.

One of the strongest aspects of the book is the analysis of discourses and policies in the context of globalization and economic rationalism. Barbara Godard's rigorous "genealogy" of arts funding discourse in Canada explores in detail the development of the idea that culture is a "special interest" and how "exchange" has become culture's criteria of value. Other chapters, such as one by Patricia Gillard and another by Annette Van Den Bosch, explore how the current national focus on high tech culture and the market is deeply gendered. Alison Beale's excellent chapter addresses in part the development of market-driven cultural policies and of a consumer- choice model of citizenship, and investigates how, as the welfare state is dismantled, women's concerns are left to the market.

Several of the chapters offer sophisticated and well-theorized accounts of the double-edged sword of cultural policies within the context of national and global pressures. Monika Kin Gagnon's essay, for example, discusses three conferences organized by artists of colour in Canada, and demonstrates the resistance of mainstream Canadian society and organizations to dealing with diversity in a more than tokenistic way. …

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