The Social Factory

the blog of King's CMCI PostGrad Society

Cultural and academic ‘value’ – Toby Bennett

Last night saw the launch of Dave O’Brien’s book ‘Cultural Policy: Management, Value and Modernity in the Creative Industries’, the thrust of which is outlined in his recent Guardian article, Is ‘creativity’ arts policy’s big mistake?

A doubly contentious idea, the word ‘value’ is as slippery as ’culture’, potentially signifying everything and nothing – and certainly carrying different weight depending on the world in which you’re operating, whether that be the university, industry, politics, or creative practice. Most provocative, for me, was O’Brien’s suggestion that the questions brought into view by cultural policy cut to the very heart of what it means to be modern. In response, the event had Kate Oakley, Andy Pratt and Geoffrey Crossick discussing their own experiences at navigating those tricky waters with varying degrees of success.

A consensus emerged which was founded on a will to move beyond the ‘old and tired dichotomies’ of aesthetic value and economic value, and perhaps use value and exchange value, which forever trouble those working in the creative industries – something at the heart of the current AHRC project headed by Geoff Crossick. But it is not just culture that repeats such dichotomies; from this, perhaps, unusual starting point was launched an impassioned defence of the sanctity of research.

Prompted by concerned questions from audience-members representing various cultural and third sector institutions, the panellists avowed their commitment to translating research into plain speaking and bridging the worlds of industry and practice with that of the university. But, crucially, the ‘value’ of research in and for itself was stressed, each panellist distancing themselves in their own way from a purely instrumental use of academic insight.

The ivory tower was defended, partly because, as Kate Oakley observed, ‘not everyone in society wants to be engaged all of the time’ – but mostly because detachment is a necessary predicate for producing policy work that that does not merely serve the needs of ideological dogma. In professor Pratt’s succinct words, ‘what kind of citizens do you want your society to produce?’: for academics, artists, workers and consumers alike, this would seem to be the most urgent question of what it means to be modern.