I Qualifying and Quantifying Cultural Value: Critical Accounts of the History and Politics of Cultural Measurement


Emma Blomkamp

The politics of cultural measurement are at play both in debates about cultural value, and in attempts to measure the performance and impacts of arts and cultural organisations and policies. The first part of this book outlines some of the key political and historical drivers of the current interest in cultural value and the intensification of forms of measurement. With particular attention to the economistic logic of indicators, six authors from different disciplines introduce the historical context of cultural measurement, from the magic of medieval accounting, through sociological surveys of cultural practices, to the spread of neoclassical economics. Together, these chapters highlight the culturally and historically specific nature of debates on cultural value, drawing the reader's attention to the values, theories and power structures embedded in contemporary regimes of measurement.

In Chapter 1, Emma Blomkamp begins by mapping the diverse forms of indicators that are connected to the various meanings of the term culture. Blomkamp traces the emergence of economic and social indicators, describing the broad trend towards performance measurement in business and politics. Her genealogical analysis of cultural indicators offers a historical introduction to this field that encourages us to question the apparent neutrality of numbers.

Chapter 2, by Guy Redden, similarly takes a critical approach to cultural indicators' presentation of 'matters of value as matters of fact'. Drawing on the sociology of quantification, Chapter 2 outlines the constitution and effects of indicators. Redden's argument about the power of numbers and the logic of accountancy underlines concerns that cultural indicators cannot come in democratised forms. He takes a nuanced position, nonetheless, pointing to the potential to resist hegemonic discourse and take deliberative action to democratise indicators. Such possibilities are explored further in Part III of this volume.

Vincent Dubois, in Chapter 3, illustrates some of the concerns about governmental uses of statistics. Dubois focuses on the production of cultural statistics as they were developed for the renowned French policy of cultural democratisation. Although cultural statistics made this policy seem more scientific, they were eventually used as ammunition to critique it. Much has been written on the need for, and development of, cultural indicators, but we know little about how these measures are actually used once produced. This chapter contributes to our understanding of the political uses and implications of cultural statistics in a particular national context.

Disciplinary and historically specific uses of language, especially related to early understandings of culture and of financial accounting, are demonstrated by Harriet Parsons. Chapter 4 explores the poetics of words and the magic of numbers, highlighting the creative and political power of both artists and accountants. Parsons' chapter weaves together 'imaginary machines', such as Adam Smith's 'invisible hand', with Captain Cook's colonial discoveries and more recent phenomena, such as political spin.

Taking Eleonora Belfiore's analysis of 'defensive instrumentalism' within New Labour cultural policy in the United Kingdom as a point of departure, in Chapter 5 Justin O'Connor explores the relationship between culture and economy. While critiquing the pervasive effects of neoliberal economics, O'Connor also points to broader, paradoxically 'positive' trends in the cultural economy, such as the new centrality of culture and creativity. Ultimately, he calls for a radical introduction of new values into an alternative economics.

In Chapter 6, Dave O'Brien and Pat Lockley focus on the significant term cultural value, which has permeated recent analyses and debates of cultural measurement, especially in Britain. Tracing its emergence in the United Kingdom and its relationship with the concept of 'public value', before illustrating its current usage through a social media experiment, their discursive analysis explores the incoherence and advocacy besieging discussions of cultural value. Chapter 6 is interesting in its methodological discussion and use of Twitter, representing a particular form of cultural measurement in itself.

Together, these authors make a case for considering the political stakes and implications of cultural measurement. They demonstrate that the framing of measures can effectively create forms of cultural value and that contemporary measurement, precisely because of its political character, should not be considered a substitute for politics.

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