This May’s issue of the International Journal of Cultural Policy is entirely devoted to so-called “implicit” cultural policies. Heading it up is a fine paper by one of the special issue’s editors, Jeremy Ahearne, entitled “Cultural Policy Explicit and Implicit: A Distinction and Some Uses.” [Volume 15, Number 2, May 2009 , pp. 141-153]. I even found a link to it, so you can read it here.
Ahearne picks apart one of the key features of the cultural policy landscape, which is that what governments call “cultural policy” has very little to do with many of the most important policy decisions taken about culture, and the fundamentally cultural nature of so much government activity. After all, Ahearne remarks, it is easy to see that “appearance-management [is] as an essential task in the preservation of political power.” Citing one of Geoff Mulgan’s early books (and I found Mulgan’s Good and Bad Power one of the best contemporary explorations of pragmatic political philosophy), he points out that:
Geoff Mulgan and Ken Worpole alerted us long ago to the fact that the cultural policies doing most to shape national cultures were not being framed within bespoke government departments but in the boardrooms of powerful transnational commercial organisations such as (in the 1980s) Virgin, News International or Benetton (Mulgan and Worpole 1986, p. 9).
He goes on to look at some of the “soft power” ideas of Joseph Nye, whose belief in the strategic and geopolitical imperatives of US interests led him to argue for such state-sponsored communication policies as Voice of America, and then examines the French cultural policy ideas of Regis Debray such as “laicity.” All in all, it’s a thoughtful and intersting exploration of a oft-remarke3d but little-studied disjunction in the cultural policy debate. As Ahearne concludes:
The purpose of this article has been to open up rather than close down perspectives. For some readers, I am sure that I will have opened things up too widely, and thrown cultural policy studies way beyond its historically legitimate expertise in arts subsidy and regulation. But as is well known, ‘culture’ is not synonymous with ‘the arts’ (why have two words for the same thing?). And the name of our discipline invites us to explore those areas where policies (strategic courses of action) and cultures (embodied systems of attitudes and values) collide and intersect, whether or not these or other terms are used to describe and to mask the processes involved.