II Making Culture Count in Political Contexts and Discourses


Kim Dunphy

Part II of this collection explores some of the frameworks and techniques of cultural measurement that have emerged in recent decades, from the perspectives of theorists and of those engaged directly in cultural measurement. The five chapters examine the meanings and politics of these new ideas in various governmental and practice settings in the developed and developing world. Beginning with a system of cultural statistics used across the world and a global framework about progress measured creatively, it then hones in on a discourse of measurement in a local government context. Finally, specific issues related to cultural measurement for indigenous communities are examined, including alternative indicators for culture, and the relationship between heritage and culture.

The opening chapter by Jose Pessoa, Head of Culture Statistics at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and based in Canada, documents a cultural measurement system created to have resonance and function for governments of developing countries. This system prioritises economic inputs and outputs of cultural activity, which Pessoa argues is necessary because the nations being trained to use it value the economic contributions of cultural activity more highly than other functions, such as social or cultural contributions.

Australian social researchers Geoff Woolcock and Melanie Davern take a very different tack, introducing an indicators framework that prioritises socio-cultural measures of participation in the arts. Their case study of Community Indicators Victoria (CIV), a new approach to measuring wellbeing in Australia, utilises statistics about arts participation as the most relevant indicators of culture in the context of community wellbeing and local government. While cultural indicators form only a very small component of the overall schema, the inclusion of even a modest number of indicators about culture makes CIV unique. The authors' review of contemporary approaches to wellbeing measurement internationally confirms that the inclusion of cultural measures of wellbeing is uncommon, even in the most innovative schema.

Nancy Duxbury and M. Sharon Jeannotte also connect culture and wellbeing, but with a particular focus on the relationship between culture and sustainability planning and implementation. Sited in the context of local government in Canada, their chapter offers a detailed examination of how councils consider the cultural dimension in planning for their future, and how they utilise cultural indicators in that process. These authors' meticulous research with community plans from 102 municipalities offers insight into the capacity and limitation of indicators, as they are currently applied, to measure all that communities value about their cultural life.

The next contributions examine the relationship between culture and values that are divergent from those of Western or developed nations. Policy practitioner Jamie Tanguay's chapter documents the Alternative Indicators of Well-being for Melanesia project based in the small island nation of Vanuatu. This initiative places a much higher priority on culture than more mainstream community indicator approaches, valuing it as so fundamental as to underpin all that is important about national wellbeing. However, culture in this context is considered very differently than in indicator systems discussed in earlier chapters that prioritise arts as a major dimension of culture, or even as a simile for culture. In this Melanesian framework, culture is conceptualised in its broadest sense, as way of life and as a vehicle for meaning-making. The final chapter, by researcher Jose Antonio Gonzalez Zarandona, examines issues relating to Indigenous culture and heritage, and their measurement, in postcolonial Australia. Gonzalez Zarandona posits that heritage can function as a measure of culture, although he observes many limitations with current conceptions of heritage and methods of measurement in relation to the cultural treasures of ancient Indigenous rock art.

Together, these chapters identify challenges with the measurement of culture in contexts from the largest global scale to very localised communities. Each chapter also documents a solution to issues their authors identify, with examination of systems being adopted, trialled or considered. In so doing, further challenges for scholars and practitioners in the field are also made evident, with each of the solutions as yet imperfect in addressing its goals and meeting the needs of the relevant communities.

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