After the Creative Industries: Cultural Policy in Crisis

By O'Connor, Justin | Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal, Annual 2016 | Go to article overview

After the Creative Industries: Cultural Policy in Crisis


O'Connor, Justin, Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal


Introduction

This paper, more polemic or manifesto than scholarly exegesis, was written for a meeting of the Global Cultural Economy Network (GCEN), an informal group of policy experts concerned to help re-frame current debates around culture and economy. In the last decade or so that relationship has been predominantly configured under the agenda of 'creative industries' and later 'creative economy'. The GCEN coalesced in the belief that whatever new insights, dynamics and policy constituencies were generated by the creative industry/ economy agenda, it seems now to have become dysfunctional for, even destructive of, a progressive future for cultural policy. This is not just a Northern hemisphere but a global crisis.

Though this paper, in a rudimentary form, was initially addressed to a specific meeting, the 'we' that it uses nonetheless needs some explaining. The GCEN is an informal--potentially 'activist'--group with no 'official line'. Indeed this paper was precisely an attempt to create a GCEN 'we' by using this statement of position as a central text around which the meeting was to be organised. Could we, as a group, accept this as a broad statement of where we stood? As it transpired, the meeting--at Tilburg University, The Netherlands--did not take place (at least in the form in which it was intended) and this text awaits a future meeting--face-to-face or virtual - in which this 'we' can be more formally brought into existence. Nonetheless, this paper has benefited enormously from the two meetings that preceded it (in Shanghai, and Prato, Italy), and the emailed comments that a prior draft had received. And of course, knowing the immediate audience had shaped its arguments and rhetoric as it would any attempt to actively persuade and enlist a specific group of people.

Which brings me to the second aspect of the 'we'. For though intending to bring a small informal 'we' into existence, the possibility of that act of persuasion was crucially dependent on establishing the existence (real and potential) of a larger 'we' to which, and hopefully for which, we could (eventually) speak. This 'we' is an imagined community, or more accurately perhaps, a rather ramshackle 'epistemic community', around culture and economy that emerged along multiple tributaries in the 1980s and 1990s. An epistemic community can be defined as 'a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within that domain or issue-area' with one of its features being 'a common policy enterprise, or a set of common practices associated with a set of problems to which their professional competence is directed, presumably out of the conviction that human welfare will be enhanced as a consequence. (1)

This aptly describes the emergent, transnational policy community of cultural (and later creative) industries and cultural (and later creative) cities experts in the 1990s--primarily in Europe, North America and Australia, and increasingly in Latin America, South Africa and East Asia. It emerged from older cultural policy formations--most significantly perhaps the UN 'culture and development' discourse - as well as from the academic traditions of political economy of the media, economic geography, cultural studies and critical cultural policy studies. These in turn were responding to the complex set of contested transitions from a 'Fordist' welfare state system to something else--a 'knowledge' or 'creative' or 'information' or 'post-industrial' or 'post-scarcity' or even 'post-modern' society. However interpreted, this moment of transition was seized as an opportunity for change encapsulated by an 'imaginary' in which culture and economy were to come together in new and positive ways.

Its members were consultants and consultant-practitioners, local and regional government officers, cultural space managers, directors of large cultural institutions, academics and representatives of national (British Council, Goethe Institute, etc. …

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