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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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For obvious reasons, an in-depth discussion of the contrasting historical developments within the political, administrative and legal realms in Italy and the UK is beyond the scope of this article5. However, before turning to the analysis of public policy making with specific regards to the arts and culture, it is necessary to consider the frame in which public policy is made and studied in the two countries, and examine whether the contrasting understanding of the very notion of policy might affect decisions that are made in the administration of the public cultural sector. The following section of the paper will thus consider the different ways in which the two countries understand and talk about policy and its relation to the sphere of politics.

The paper will then concentrate on the different ways in which the notion of culture upon which cultural policy is based - has been articulated within the two countries, and the implications for the cultural policy researcher.



As Peter John explains, “research on policy seeks to understand how the machinery of the state and political actors interact to produce public actions” (John 1998, 1). Its main focus of analysis is therefore the ensemble of decisions that determine the output of a political system (in the case presently under scrutiny, cultural policies) as well as changes that such decisions produce outside of the political system itself, which are normally referred to as ‘policy outcomes’ (for example, increased levels of participation in cultural activities, or changes in the age or social composition of arts audiences) (Ibid.). The ultimate raison d’être of the discipline of public policy research, thus, lies in the ambition to explore and explain the complexities of the

policy-making process. As John (1998, 1-2) further explains:

The following section of the paper indeed represents an excerpt of a more comprehensive and exhaustive comparative study of Britain and Italy that is still in progress.

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Despite the discipline’s focus on policy outcomes, policy researchers are well aware that policy-making remains nevertheless a highly political exercise. Indeed, each

policy sector contains within itself all the elements that make up a political system:

elected politicians, civil servants, pressure-groups, bureaucrats and so on, as well as the complex fabric of institutional relationships, law and regulations that govern any modern political structure. It thus logically follows that one of the principal goals of policy-oriented research in the politics sphere should be “to sharpen up the analysis of politics by examining the links between decision-makers as they negotiate and seek influence in the governmental system” (John 1998, 2).

As a sub-sector of public policy, cultural policy can therefore be described as the variegated forms of institutional structures that have been set in place by national and local government to support, as well as regulate, the heritage and the diverse creative and artistic endeavours that make up the creative sector. However, as Bennett (1995, 201) points out, cultural policy is not limited to governmental activities, since also the measures adopted by organisations within the cultural sector itself are an equally important aspect of cultural policy. As Miller and Yúdice (2002, 1) explain, ‘organizations solicit, train, distribute, finance, describe and reject actors and activities that go under the signs of artist or artwork, through the implementation of policies”.

In this sense, cultural policy, despite being concerned with arts and what might appear – to the naïve observer – concerned with the aloft and timeless preoccupations of aesthetics6 is in fact a rather political terrain, no less than other aspects of policy, such as health or social policy where the political element might seem more obvious. In fact, as Jim McGuigan (1996, 5) argues, the political element has been, until very recently, what has been most attractive to researchers working in the disciplinary fields that are grouped under the umbrella term of cultural studies.

Consequently, while ‘cultural politics’ - intended as aesthetic practices that aim to challenge the mainstream and the cultural establishment – have received great attention, the more pragmatic ‘politics of culture’ - which include not only policy analysis but also policy formulation - have been somewhat neglected. McGuigan suggests that an explanation for this lack of interest might reside in an exaggerated form of critical purity on the part of researchers working within cultural studies, as well as on their reluctance to get involved in the state’s regulatory processes (Ibid.).

This might contribute to explain the relatively recent development of the academic interest in cultural policy research that was discussed in the preceding chapter.

It is important, however, to put such slow development of cultural policy studies as a discrete field of research into an appropriate context. It is significant to note how, in fact, the systematic study of public policy (of which cultural policy can be seen as a sub-discipline with a stronger humanistic connotation) is itself a rather young field of enquiry within political science. Beryl A. Radin (2000, 1), in trying to describe what it means to be a policy analyst, goes as far as claiming that “[d]espite the growth of the field over the past several decades, this is not a profession that the general public understands. It is obvious that policy analysis has not gained a place in the world of professions equal to that of law, medicine or engineering”. This might seem a rather Arguably, however, such naïve observers are today on their way to extinction, since postmodern theory has made a point of negating the existence of any non-politically charged notion of what represents art or aesthetically valuable endeavours.

surprising statement, especially to the British reader, in consideration of the escalating reliance of UK government and policy-makers on consultants, analysts and the ever-increasingly powerful ‘think-thanks’. However, if we turn to Italy, we would have to conclude that the state of affairs there is rather different, and an Italian reader would certainly be more sympathetic towards Radin’s statement.

Indeed, if research into public policy has had a slow development in the Anglophone world, this has been even slower in Italy, where public policies and policy-making have not received a degree of attention and scrutiny parallel to that of other major European countries. In his research guide to contemporary Italy, Bull (1996, 34) attributes this to the fact that, in the early 1960s, when the question of state intervention and public policy-making became a crucial issue, Italian political science was so underdeveloped that it was just incapable of properly analysing the changing circumstances. In other countries, around that same time - following the establishment of welfare states - the interest in the understanding and evaluation of public policies constituted a crucial encouragement for the development of public policy research (John 1998, 4). The above-mentioned shortcomings of Italian political science meant that, there, public policy became the preserve of academics with a legal, economic and sociological background. A more systematic approach to the study of public policy was eventually prompted by the establishment of the Italian welfare state in 1978 (Bull 1996, 35), although policy analysis first entered the world of academia only in the mid-eighties, when the first courses on public policy were established in a limited number of universities.

Today, public policy still represents only a minority interest within the broader field of Italian political science - which is itself reputed to be lagging behind and struggling in catching up with international developments (Bull 1996, 34-35; Regonini 2001, 46).

Regonini (2001, 46) further laments the fact that even as late as 1990 ‘public policy’ was not to be found in the subject index of the Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica (the main political science journal in the country), nor have Italian publishing houses shown much interest in foreign publications in the field, with the result that a number of works by ‘classic authors’ of the public policy tradition, such as Lowi, Schön, Allison, Wildavsky and Kingdon, are not available in translation. The following section of the paper will explore a possible explanation for such a late development in the interest in public policy and its study in Italy.



Regonini (2001, 12) suggests that one of the causes for such a lack of interest in policy research on the part of the Italian academia might be linked to the fact that a very large proportion of the extant literature in this area has been produced in the United States. Consequently, a certain appreciation of the administrative and political structures in place there - which the Italian policy researcher might not necessarily be acquainted with - is required background knowledge for the full understanding of the available public policy literature. More importantly, work produced in the American cultural context refers to concepts and values that are not equally diffused - or even acceptable - when transposed into the Italian system of beliefs and values. This concept is effectively clarified by the reception, in Italy, of what is universally seen to be now a ‘classic’ text of policy analysis: Lindbloom’s 1959 article entitled The science of “muddling through”. This otherwise influential article, as well as its very title, could not solicit but the uttermost suspicion in a culture such as the Italian one, characterised by a deep-rooted sense of reverence for the written law as a guide to public administration. This reverential attitude to the law is indeed reflected in disputes over conflicting interpretations of single words of the legislative text that can engage law experts and high courts alike for whole decades. It is therefore common for the educated Italian reader to feel that, while policy studies might provide useful guidance towards an improved public administration, they do not display an adequate standard of scientific solidity at the theoretical and methodological levels to command academic credibility (Regonini 2001, 12)7. The lack of a unitary corpus of literature in the disciplinary field of public policy, to be shared by all those involved in it and commonly referred to, further enhances the difficulty of seeing public policy as a fully legitimate subject for academic research (Regonini 2001, 13).

Such scepticism is without any doubt accentuated by the fact that the word policy, in fact, does not exist in the Italian language. As a result, in Italian (as well as in most other main continental European languages) it becomes much harder to make explicit the distinction between politics and policy that is immediately obvious to the English speaker. This has implications that go well beyond the impossibility of translating in an elegant way expressions such as, for example, “the politics of cultural policy”. For it is significant to point out how the words ‘policy’ and ‘politics’ have, in the Anglophone linguistic context, a strong autonomy not only of a lexical nature, but also at the level of meaning. As Regonini (2001, 19) shows, in the American political and cultural frames of reference, such a distinction often shifts into an open contraposition, whereby the notion of policy is felt to be freer from connotations of partisanship and corruption than politics.

Arnold J. Heidenheimer (1986) has contributed an interesting review of the historical foundations and the principal consequences of the divergence between the concepts of ‘politics’ and ‘policy’ in English and other Continental European languages. He bases much of his conclusions on examples derived from German and French, although the paper’s central argument is also valid for other European languages.

As the opinion by Beryl A. Radin (2000) referred to above confirms, this is hardly a sentiment limited to Italian academics, though it is arguable that it might be more intense amongst them for the reasons suggested by Regonini (2001).

Heidenheimer (Ibid., 3) maintains that the fact that many languages in Europe do not possess a term for policy that is distinct from that for politics is a terminological problem that is primarily responsible for the difficulties in establishing a genuinely cross-national literature on political science. His paper represents an important attempt to study in a systematic way what he (Ibid., 4) refers to as the “polis-family of words” (in so far as the terms under analysis in his paper are all derived from the Greek terms polis and politeia). His aim is to achieve a better understanding of the development of terminologies over time and across language areas, with a view to reconstructing the series of events that brought the English language to develop a notion of ‘policy’ complementary to that of politics, while in the other Continental languages both meanings came together in the sole term of politics.

The importance of Heidenheimer’s work lies in the fact that, as observed by the German political scientist Sternberger, there is “no comprehensive philological study existing so far which would inform us about the curious migration or migrations of these words through the ages, or about the striking changes of meaning they underwent in the course of time” (quoted in Heidenheimer 1986, 4). Although over two decades have passed since Sternberger wrote these words in the early 1980s, the underdevelopment of research in this area seems to be still unchallenged.

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