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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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An explanation for this state of affairs can be found in the fact that much of the comparative research that has so far been carried out in the sphere of cultural policy is very political in its intent, and thus often confuses research and advocacy. As a result, the desire for increased understanding often gives in to the political desirability of certain outcomes over others. Indeed, it is not rare for the policy-makers that commission research to have a more or less explicit political purpose. (Schuster, 1988 and 1996; Kawashima 1995 and 1999). Consequently, too many of the available studies are the product of a time-limited commission from arts agencies or funding bodies whose genuine objective is not to further knowledge and understanding through research (Schuster, 1988, 2). Moreover, nowadays in most countries, arts organizations work on very tight budgets that do not often include resource allocations especially devoted to funding research. This means that more often than not, resources for research are taken from resources that would have otherwise been spent on cultural activities. Hence the sometime considerable internal pressure, within arts organizations, against funding research (Schuster 1996, 34). In such a context, it is important to underline the important contribution that the academic world could make to the development of more methodologically sound and unbiased research in the field of cultural policy studies.3 However, as Kawashima wrote in 1999, it still seems true that “…there has been a gap between practical, policy-oriented research and academic, theoretical research” (Kawashima, 1999, 2)



Although a significant proportion of cross-national studies in the disciplinary area of cultural policy studies is based on the presentation and the discussion of quantitative data, it would be wrong to assume that this is the only type of comparative research currently available. In fact, another important strand of cross-national research has been developing in parallel to the ‘league table’ type described above. This alternative form of cross-national analysis is represented by what could be labeled as the ‘cultural policy models” literature. By this expression, I refer to the body of work that discusses the different administrative frameworks for cultural policy in different countries in the attempt to derive, from such observation, a number of “archetypical” models of cultural policy to which all others could be more or less be ascribed. This type of work, whose most influential examples were published in the mid-80s, quite often attempted to establish and observe the links between national cultural policies and the cultural, intellectual and historical contexts of the countries in which they had developed. In many ways the contribution of such works is still valuable, in so far as it brings to the attention of the reader how different styles of cultural policy-making are a result of a number of complex variables and historical developments. One of the most illustrious representatives of this approach to cross-national research is the influential collection of essays edited by Cumming and Katz (1987a) with the title The Patron State: Government and the Arts in Europe, North America and Japan.

In their introductory chapter, Cumming and Katz acknowledge the diversity among different countries' cultural policies and the institutions that are in charge to define and implement them. More importantly, they explicitly link such diversity to each county’s particular context: “…this variety reflects not only differing national traditions in the organization of public functions, but differing philosophies and objectives regarding the whole area of culture and the arts” (Cumming and Katz 1987b, 4). The chapters that make up the book all share the ambition to shed light upon such differing philosophies of policy making for the cultural sector, as well as the varying definitions - adopted among different countries - of what cultural forms the state should take upon itself to finance and promote. Moreover, on the basis of their historical roots, Cumming and Katz (Ibid., 5) identify two main patterns of political development on which contemporary national cultural policy models have been molded. The first is that of the royal absolutist states such as France and Austria, and the other is represented by more limited monarchies that developed in highly mercantile countries, such as the Netherlands and England. Countries like Germany and Italy - which were united in a single state only in the second part of the nineteenth century – display, according to this paradigm, a mixture of the characteristics of either group. From these diverging historical factors derived the various models of contemporary cultural policy presented in The Patron State.

According to Cummings and Katz (1987b, 12) there are indeed various different organisational forms that governments can choose in order to pursue their goals with regards to cultural policies: one is the quasi-public institution at arm’s length from the government which tends to prevail in the Anglo-Saxon world, having been pioneered by UK. The alternative approach is based on the notion that cultural provision and support are simply examples of the many functions of the state, and as such, they are to be run according to the normal rules and procedures that regulate the public administration. One variant of this approach is represented by the so-called “French Ministry of Culture Model”, whereby responsibilities for policy-making, funding and advocacy for the cultural sector are all reunited under the roof of a single ministry, headed by a cabinet minister. In Cummings and Katz’s paradigm, Italy represents a second variant of the normal public administration approach, since responsibility of cultural programmes is – in this case – divided amongst several ministries. In both the Italian and French models, however, resources for culture are allocated following the same budgetary procedures as for any other form of public spending, and the same control mechanisms are in place as for any other government’s departments and ministries (Ibid.).

However, following the creation in Italy – in 1998 - of the first unified Ministry for Culture since the fascist era, it might be argued that the difference identified in the late 1980s by Cumming and Katz between the French and Italian variants of the public administration-based model of cultural policy has lost much of its relevance today. Indeed, the Italian Ministry for Heritage and Cultural Activities has, according to Carla Bodo (2002, 3) “finally achieved the full status of a ministry of culture comparable to the ones existing in most European countries”4. Equally outdated is the discussion of Germany’s federal policies for culture, in view of the re-unification of Germany following the fall of Berlin wall in 1989.

However, besides the obvious and inevitable obsolescence of the information it presents, from a methodological point of view, there are further limitations in this collection of essays. Arguably, The Patron State belongs to that category of work that Schuster (1996, 30) has wittily labelled as the ‘ten countries, ten chapters and a staple’ literature. This is because the discussion offered by each chapter is in fact developed independently from the other chapters in the book. No common framework has been adopted and shared by the many authors whose papers are brought together in the volume. No particular disciplinary perspective nor methodological approach has been consistently endorsed by all the authors. So, on the one hand, the chapter on Italy consists of a detailed and rather technical The competencies of the unified Italian ministry now include the performing arts, cinema and copyright; only responsibilities for information and arts education are still beyond its remit (Bodo 2002).

discussion of the legislation relevant to the administration of the cultural sector in force at the time in the country and how it originated in the Fascist era (Palma and Clemente di San Luca 1987). On the other hand, the chapter on the UK adopts a more discursive tone and - after an attempt to link prevalent notions of culture in Britain to the country’s Protestant tradition and to the political dominance of capitalism - presents a historical review of the development of the main institutions responsible for the distribution of public resources to the British arts sector.

As the following sections of this paper aim to show, there is a well founded reason why a legal focus is more appropriate to understand the logic of cultural policymaking in Italy - and therefore preferable to an approach based on historical reconstruction such as the one chosen by F. F. Ridley (1987) for his chapter Tradition, Change, and Crisis in Great Britain. However, no explanation or justification for the adoption of such different approaches within the same collection of work is offered, since each chapter represents, in fact, a self-contained and independent unit which the authors have developed from a number of different disciplinary perspectives, emphasising different aspects of the process of cultural policy-making.

A second influential work of the “cultural policy models” type is represented by the collection of essays edited by Cummings and Schuster and published by the American Council for the Arts in 1989. The contribution by Hilman-Chartrand and McCaughey to the volume is the most relevant to the present discussion. Their paper looks at the ways in which different governments articulate and implements their cultural policies, and on this base, they identify four different models of the state’s involvement in the financial support of the cultural sector. Hilman-Chartrand and McCaughey’s chapter begins with a discussion of the centrality of the so-called “arm’s length principle” in Western public policy and in the promotion of the arts and culture on the part of the state. However, there are other alternative modes of public

support that need to be taken into consideration. In the authors own words:

The arm’s length principle […] is not the only possible mode of public support to the fine arts. There are four alternative roles for the State: Facilitator, Patron, Architect and Engineer.

Furthermore, the State can have two different objectives – to support the process of creativity or to support production of specific types of art such as socialist realism (Hilman-Chartrand and McCaughey 1989, 48).

The chapter goes on to provide examples of each of the four models of state support for the arts just described (Ibid. 48-53). So, the United States with its generous policy of promoting the arts through incentives to private donations in the form of foregone taxes, represent the Facilitator state. Great Britain, embodies the type of the Patron State, which is characterised by the reliance on bodies at “arm’s length” from the government for the distribution of public resources to the cultural sector. France is the archetypical Architect state, where culture is highly bureaucratised and crucial decisions are made centrally by a Ministry for Culture. The fourth model of state intervention is the most appealing to governments with totalitarian tendencies, since it features the subjection of cultural policies and strategies to the obtainment of political goals, and artistic decisions are made and modified according to changes in the government’s political priorities. Interestingly, after describing at great lengths the various models of state support of the arts, Hilman-Chartrand and McCaughey (Ibid.,

53) admit that “[a]lthough these roles are mutually exclusive in theory, in practice, most nations combine some or all of them”. Furthermore, the final section of the chapter, sets out to demonstrate how these ideal roles of the state vis à vis the arts have been progressively converging, so that “[m]ost countries have, to varying degrees, adopted all four modes of public support” ((Ibid., 72). In the fifteen years that have intervened since the publication of Hilman-Chartrand and McCaughey’s work, with the process of globalisation now well underway, this trend towards convergence has become even more marked, and the role of the state in the promotion of the cultural sector has become so complex – if not even, occasionally, contradictory (Belfiore 2004) – that the four ideal types described above are not as useful a tool in understanding how cultural policy develops differently in different countries as it probably was when they were first conceptualised.


In the light of the preceding observations, it cannot be denied that a lot stillhas to be done to conceptualize comparative cultural policy, so that we are able go beyond a purely quantitative methodology based on international comparison of cultural statistical data. Cultural expenditure is certainly an important aspect in so far as it represents an expression of a government’s priorities in cultural funding and, consequently, in the broader sphere of cultural policy. Thus – as Clive Gray (1996, 218-219) warns us - what is spent, how it is spent and the effects of what is spent are important issues in understanding cultural policies. This is especially significant when public expenditure is observed over the longer term, in order to register changes in governments’ priorities and preoccupations vis à vis cultural policies. However, this paper aims to suggest that a quantitative approach cannot alone suffice to understand the workings of the cultural sector and of policies for it across nations. To this end, a methodological approach is needed that allows and requires a more indepth study of the cultural, social and political history and the cultural debates within the countries being compared, as well as an understanding of their legal and administrative systems as a precondition for discussing cultural policy mechanisms cross-nationally. The importance of such an approach is eloquently exemplified by the case study of the comparative analysis of the cultural policy of Britain and Italy.

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