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«The Methodological Challenge of Cross-National Research: comparing cultural policy in Britain and Italy Eleonora Belfiore Research Fellow Centre for ...»

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RESEARCH

PAPERS

Centre for Cultural Policy Studies

University of Warwick

Research Papers No 8

Series Editors: Oliver Bennett

and Jeremy Ahearne

The Methodological Challenge

of Cross-National Research:

comparing cultural policy in

Britain and Italy

Eleonora Belfiore

Research Fellow

Centre for Cultural Policy Studies

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Abstract

3

INTRODUCTION 3

THE USE AND ABUSE OF CULTURAL STATISTICS IN CROSS-NATIONAL RESEARCH 4

CULTURAL POLICY ACROSS NATIONAL BOUNDARIES: THE “MODELS OF

CULTURAL POLICY” APPROACH 10

BEYOND A QUANTITATIVE APPROACH 15

METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS IN PRACTICE: TALKING ABOUT POLICY IN

BRITAIN AND ITALY 16

“NOMINA SUNT SUBSTANTIA RERUM”? A QUESTION OF VOCABULARY 20

THE PREVALENCE OF ‘ABSOLUTE POLITICS’ IN ITALY 28

DIFFERING NOTIONS OF CULTURE IN BRITAIN AND ITALY: POLICY IMPLICATIONS

TOWARDS AN APPROPRIATE COMPARATIVE METHODOLOGY: THE CONCEPT OF

CONTEXTUALIZATION 41

RESEARCH VS. ADVOCACY 46

AN INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH 48

BIBLIOGRAPHY 51

ABSTRACT

This paper explores methodological issues that need to be considered when embarking in cross-national cultural policy research. The first part offers a discussion of the limitations of much of the currently available comparative research in the field, and particularly work that relies heavily on comparison of cultural statistics. By drawing on an extensive discussion of the case study of Britain and Italy, the second part of the paper attempts to put forward a number of suggestions with a view to developing a more appropriate and more holistic comparative research methodology for the field of cultural policy studies. To this end, inspiration is drawn from the contribution of a number of disciplines in the field of social sciences – as well as public policy studies - where comparative research, and related problems of methodology, have long been discussed and theorized. In particular, the concept of contextualization will be shown to be extremely useful when comparing notions of culture and policies across nations.

INTRODUCTION

Today we live in an increasingly “globalised” world, in which the local, national and international dimensions are more and more interwoven, and this is true whether we are discussing the production of commodities, the characteristics of the knowledge economy, the birth of social or political movements, or the spread of new ideas and values. It is therefore inevitable for most countries to feel the need to look at each other’s experiences when making important political and administrative decisions. In this context of increasing interdependence between nations, it is easy to understand the reason for the growing interest in comparative research.

These are indeed the circumstances in which comparative cultural policy studies have developed. This paper will therefore attempt to analyse some methodological problems arising from the comparative study of public policies for the cultural sector by adopting as a case study a two-nation comparative observation of Italy and the UK. Looking in particular at the very different ways in which the concept and the study of public policy have developed over time in the two countries, as well as the different notions of culture on which their cultural policies are based, the discussion will attempt to highlight the limitations of much of the currently available comparative cultural policy research. The concluding section of the paper will finally propose some ideas for further research and for a broader, multi-dimensional and multidisciplinary approach to the study of cultural policies. Indeed, only such an approach can succeed in accounting for the difficult cultural, administrative, political and legal traditions between the countries observed, thus providing a better understanding of the mechanisms of cultural policy-making within the countries in question.

THE USE AND ABUSE OF CULTURAL STATISTICS IN CROSSNATIONAL RESEARCH

Comparative cultural policy is a very young discipline which is increasingly acquiring a growing degree of popularity among scholars interested in the study of cultural studies, public policy, cultural economics, and, more broadly, the economic and legal conditions for cultural production and distribution. The earliest examples of comparative studies of this nature date back to about 30 years, when a small group of experts began conducting research and compiling reports and papers, mainly on behalf of international organizations such as UNESCO (Wiesand 2002). In Europe on which the analysis in this paper focuses - this phenomenon can be clearly detected in the tendency shown by European Governments, around the early 70s, to look beyond their national borders for inspiration and solutions to their policy problems. Observing one’s own national policies in comparison to other countries is indeed a very good way to get a fuller understanding of the policy-making processes and their effectiveness in the homeland. This observation is especially valid for EU countries, where the attempts on the part of international and transnational organizations (first and foremost the European Community itself) to establish common standards in several public policy areas have represented a strong incentive for researching the ways in which other EU countries have faced common problems (Antal et al 1996, 10).





As a result of this growing interest in cross-national comparisons of public policies, the first European intergovernmental conferences on cultural policies took place in Venice in 1970 and in Helsinki in 1972, with the aim of looking at their objectives and their financial and administrative aspects (Wiesand, 2002). Furthermore, the interest in this topic has not ceased to be a stimulus for the setting up of ambitious crossnational research projects, especially on the part of European and international bodies such as the Council of Europe or UNESCO. And we cannot avoid mentioning in this regard, the programme of national cultural policy reviews that was set up in 1985 by the Council for Cultural Co-operation within the Council of Europe. The reviews involved two types of report for each country that took part in the programme: a ‘national’ report was produced by the relevant authorities (i.e.

Ministries of Culture, of Foreign Affairs, etc.); a second was compiled by a team of experts appointed by the Council of Europe (D’Angelo and Vesperini 1998, 12-13).

This was certainly an important step forward in the developing of an international interest in the exercise of cross-national, comparative cultural policy analysis.

However, from the point of view of methodology, which is the issue with which this paper concerns itself, there are problems with this type of research that do not allow us to consider this project as a genuinely comparative study on various national cultural policies. The UNESCO series of publications Studies and documents on cultural policies presents similar problems: each of the volumes offers a description of the cultural policy of each state; however, the data presented in each booklet have been collected in different ways in each country, and at different points in time. The data are thus not harmonized because they reflect the very particular political, institutional and administrative realities of each country, as well as different practices in data collection. The data are, thus, impossible to compare (Schuster 1996, 30).

Unfortunately, the harmonization of data collection, and therefore the comparability across states of national cultural statistics, is - even among EU countries - still not an achievement as much as a target, albeit a target that seems to be getting closer. At the European level, good results have been achieved, and a ‘common statistical language’ has been developed that allows for the collection of consistent statistics (and consequently for sound international comparisons) in the field of economics.

Currently, work is being done towards a more focused development of harmonized EU cultural statistics via the involvement of Eurostat, the Statistical office of the European Communities and the institution, in 1997, of a cultural statistics LEG (Leadership Group) with a mandate to start producing statistics on cultural expenditure, employment in the cultural sector, etc, comparable across the EU (Allin, 2000). Another factor worth mentioning here is the recent trend in the rise of the phenomenon of the international “cultural observatories”, whose work is often of a cross-national nature and whose number and importance in the context of the diffusion and production of cultural data have been consistently growing in the last decade. Schuster (2002, 29-39) in his recently published work on the cultural policy information infrastructure, has contributed a detailed discussion of the rise of organizations such as cultural observatories and network and the ways in which their activities of data-gathering, monitoring and dissemination of information – as well as their particular modus operandi - has increasingly impacted (in ways that are both good and bad) on cultural policy research.

However fundamental the development of comparable international cultural statistics is for the development of cross-national cultural policy analysis, it is important not to reduce methodological issues in comparative cultural policy to a mere discussion of harmonization of statistical data. In fact, too often comparative cultural policy is limited to a discussion over comparability of national public arts expenditure data, and to the ‘league table’ approach that tends to come with it. The problem with the latter is that it seems to reduce the comparative study of policies for culture to the production - more or less rigorous - of tables that claim to compare government support for the arts in different countries (normally by charting the proportion of per capita state expenditure on the arts and culture)2. Indeed, to borrow the words of J.

Mark Schuster, who has written widely on the problems concerning the scarce availability, reliability and comparability of cultural statistics in comparative cultural policy research, “the league table has become a sine qua non of much comparative research on arts funding” (Schuster 1996, 24). He goes on to argue that often these tables, while giving the impression of providing answers to fundamental questions about state support for the arts in various countries, actually raise more questions that they answer (Schuster 1996, 23-26).

An interesting case in point is one of the latest statistics-based comparative studies of public funding of the arts carried out in the UK, and commissioned by the Arts Council of England in 1998. According to the data presented in the published report, the cultural sector allegedly occupies less than two per cent of the total public The Research Report International data on public spending on the arts in eleven countries published by the Arts Council of England (edited by Feist et al.) in 1998 and discussed later on in the paper is one of the most recent and ambitious examples.

expenditure in many European countries. The proportion of public resources devoted to culture seems to be, in fact, less than one per cent in the two countries at the centre of this study, Italy and the UK (Feist et al., 1998). Undoubtedly, there are a number of reasons that call for a cautious approach to such data. For instance, subsidies to public libraries are not included in the calculation of public expenditure on culture in the UK. However, in the section devoted to Italy, archives and libraries are included in the tables charting government’s expenditures on culture. Therefore, data presented in the report offer a distorted picture of the financial commitment of the British state to culture. As a result, comparing the data presented in different sections of the same report turns out to be a rather pointless, if not even misleading, exercise. This can be explained by the fact that the report is based on the analysis of existing published and unpublished data available in each country. Such data has been collected according to differing criteria across different countries, and some of the extant statistical data might be impossible to disaggregate. This is indeed a problem common to much cross-national work that relies heavily on quantitative material.

Therefore, the ‘league table’ approach and, more generally, a study of cultural policy that relies exclusively or mainly on quantitative data (usually the comparison of national expenditure data to explain differences between cultural policies across nations) can be misleading and, indeed, has been criticized as such within the academic literature in the field (Schuster, 1988 and 1996; Kawashima, 1995; Feist and Hutchison, 1990). It is not in the intention of this paper to provide a detailed criticism of this type of research. However, in the present context it might be useful to refer to Schuster’s (1996, 34) reference to an article, now famous within the American public policy literature, written in 1971 by Max Singer. The article was entitled – rather eloquently – The vitality of mythical numbers. Its content is very simple, yet meaningful: once a statistic is produced (no matter how incorrectly) and starts being quoted, it takes on a life of its own. As a result, the imaginary statistics might enter the official debate on cultural policy, being quoted for years without their original source and its reliability ever being verified.



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