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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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This internal differentiation in the meaning of the Italian word politica clearly causes the ambiguity in practical usage lamented by Heidenheimer, but also seems to prove right Sartori’s claim about the neglect that befalls the concepts that a language does not explicitly express by naming them. Following Sartori’s line of reasoning, the slow development of the discipline of policy analysis and, more generally, the scarce interest in public policy in Italy could be accounted for by the very lack of a word for policy. This linguistic situation creates a pathway of thought that directs attention to the more comprehensive notion of politics rather than to the more specific notion of policy which is adumbrated within it.

Moreover, in the Italian case, the linguistic ambiguity is even more marked than for other continental European languages. As noted by McGuigan (1996, 7), the French language – like the Italian - does not possess a specific term for policy, however, it has managed to create a distinction between the masculine form le politique, which refers to institutionalised politics, and the feminine la politique which refers more directly to the science of politics and policy. The Italian language, as we have just seen, can only rely on the feminine noun politica which thus embodies both meanings. To complicate things even further, in the phrase public policy, it is not only the noun which is difficult to translate in Italian, but also the adjective ‘public’. This, in Regonini (2001, 20) gives a number of examples, taken from the Italian press, of public declarations of Italian ministers and politicians which clearly reveal that such subordination of policy to politics, far from being limited to the perceptions of the general public, is in fact shared by politicians themselves. Very telling is the case of Francesco De Lorenzo, once Minister for Health, who – when asked by a journalist whether he would like to repeat his ministerial experience - answered that rather than being involved in government (that is, policy-making) he would much prefer to go back to being involved in ‘politics with a capital P’.

Italy, is generally interpreted as having the more restrictive meaning of ‘belonging or pertaining to the state’ rather than the broader acceptation ‘of or concerning the people as a whole’ received in the English language (according to the OED).

Resulting from the complexity of the Italian situation is the central role acquired by jurists, who, stretching the boundaries of their discipline, have turned public policy (and, consequently, cultural policy too) into one of their specific competences. If on the one hand this has had the positive effect of filling the already discussed research gap in this field, on the other hand, it confirms the unchallenged prominence that law holds on the understanding and research of the Italian public sphere. Furthermore, during the 1960s, Italian jurists positively resisted the development of political sciences as an autonomous discipline in order to maintain their intellectual dominance over the academic study of public policy-making. (Regonini 2001, 47).

The major consequence of this state of affairs is that, in Italy, the bridge between scientific research and active involvement in the solution of issues of collective significance has been built and controlled by the legal disciplines alone. As a result, the framework in which it has become customary to discuss public issues in Italy is that elaborated by the legal disciplines - though the boundaries of their competences tend to be so flexible that they often come to include also economic, sociological and organisational considerations11. Hence, policy difficulties and failures have been narrowly interpreted in terms of the inadequacy of the norms and laws that regulate the public sector, or their violation on the part of the main actors in public-policy making (Regonini 2001, 47).

It is interesting to note that while the legal discipline has displayed a clear tendency to absorb other fields of enquiry, other academic areas have developed in accordance to a strict and limiting interpretation of their scope for research. So, economist have limited themselves to the analysis of economic issues, while pedagogic experts have stuck with educational issues, architects with city planning ones, and so on and so forth (Regonini 2001, 47).

However, as Regonini (2001,26) firmly points out, although there are significant overlaps between the sphere of law-making and policy-making, they by no means coincide, neither practically nor conceptually. The difference between these two domains is somewhat harder to grasp in the Italian context, in view of the fact that laws often appear to be the only tool Italian institutions can use to direct public resources towards specific objectives12. Yet, the effectiveness of public policies should be rather evaluated on the basis of their success in tackling issues that concern a large section of the community. In this perspective, it might actually be a sign of a very successful strategy when policy makers manage to obtain good results just by improving institutional co-ordination and putting the available technologies to the best use, rather than resorting to the creation of new legislation. In short, as Regonini explains (2002, 27), there is no direct link between the scope and precision of the law and the scope and precision of the actual policies. Public policy-making entails the conscious resort to a wider range of resources and technologies than those allowed for by the extant laws. Indeed, policies in Italy tend to be based more on what the law does not forbid than on what the law requires to be done.

Consequently, mediation, persuasion campaigns and the promotion of incentives to action (which are all strategies allowed but not recommended by the law) are the most influential elements in the policy-making process and might have in fact a greater impact on the end results than the legislative act alone (Regonini 2001, 28).

If we take as an example the Italian cultural sector and if we were to judge Italian cultural policy-making purely on the basis of the legislation produced to regulate the sector, we would have to conclude that Italy does not have policies for the promotion Regonini (2001, 26) offers a corroborating example of this typically Italian attitude to lawmaking by referring to a newspaper article published in Italy in 1999 in which a senior Italian magistrate lamented the sorry conditions in which his profession had to carry out its functions (e.g. lack of computers, adequate furniture and office supplies) and attributed it to the deplorable fact that no new laws had been promulgated for the sector since 1990. And yet, Regonini sarcastically observes, it is dubitable that a new law could result in the sudden, miraculous apparition of the much needed and desired computers, desks, etcetera.

of access to arts and culture comparable to those that have been developed in the UK. However, if we look, rather, at the number of people working in the public cultural sector, at the number of court decisions that have relevance for the field, at the level of public resources spent on keeping prices for the live performance arts and museums low (much lower, in fact, than they are in the UK), then we might reach a very different conclusion. The systematic study of public policy-making should not limit itself to the consideration of the relevant legislation, but should also include the analysis of all the actions and strategies adopted by the key players in public policymaking that can produce consequences that affect the community, as well as the decision not to take action at all (Regonini 2001, 65). Effective policy-making thus cannot be limited to acting in conformity to the law.

We can conclude the present review of the different attitude towards the notion and the study of public policy in the Italian and Anglophone context with the observation made by Regonini (2001, 48) that, in the case of ‘policy’ - as for any other concept that is extraneous to the lexicon of a culture - the problem is not so much the filling of a gap but, rather, the creation of a new space. This entails the necessity to challenge that culture’s current systems of interpretation which join together to form a solid and shared self-sufficient structure of thought that is so strong as to be capable of making any new approach seem irrelevant. In Italy, one of the most significant elements in the current system of thought is represented by the dual concept of political parties and power. In Italy, the prevailing conviction is that public policy-making is so enmeshed with and conditioned by political power-games, so affected by the everchanging allegiances among different parties and so functional to their political strategies, that that it would make no sense at all to make it into the object of a distinct and autonomous area of academic research (Regonini 2001, 48).

Unsurprisingly then, one of the central concerns of political science research in Italy is the study of power. Conversely, the American cultural context, which provides the background for much of the available public policy literature, does not give the sphere of politics the importance nor the deference the European (and Italian in particular) context does (Regonini 2001, 66). Therefore, if we compare the approach prevalent in political science in Italy and in the Anglophone context, we have to conclude that the lack of interest in public policy that Italy displays has not resulted merely in the setting aside of a large portion of the discipline (in favour of the study of the more ‘political’ aspects of policy making). Rather, it has resulted in the adoption of a totally different approach to the understanding of policy altogether, an approach so different, in fact, as to make common terms such as, for instance, ‘politics’, ‘power’ and ‘institutions’ not completely corresponding in meaning (Regonini 2001, 66 and 52).

The arguments presented so far with regards to the thought-molding power of language are not meant to be interpreted in a deterministic way so as to result, in practice, in a conservative position (whereby the limitations imposed by languagebased patterns of thought do not allow for accepted notions to evolve and change over time), nor as a negation ipso facto of the possibility of truly understanding phenomena occurring in cultural and linguistic contexts extraneous to the researcher.

However, as the case of Britain and Italy clearly demonstrates, when embarking in cross-national research, it is important to be aware of linguistic and cultural variations and to explicitly tackle their implications for the research process.



As far as Britain is concerned, notions of culture on which public funding of the arts and culture were originally based can be evinced by the text of the Royal Charter that in 1947 ratified the creation of the Arts Council of Great Britain (one of the main components of the British arts funding system and a major policy maker in the field).

Although the role of the Arts Council and its legitimacy as superior arbiter of cultural and aesthetic value has been contested over the years, it is undeniable that it still represents a crucial element in the British cultural policy system.

The Charter described the purpose of the newly founded public body as ‘developing a greater knowledge, understanding and practice of the fine arts exclusively’ and increasing their accessibility to the people of Britain (Quoted in Hewison, 1995, 43).

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