Project summary

The relational politics of aesthetics is a project designed with an overarching topic being studied through four separate case studies and one horizontal meta-study. The project has the following questions as vantage points. Firstly: How are relations between aesthetical practice and societal development inferred and negotiated through cultural policy? Secondly: How have the prerequisites for such relations changed, and in what way can/shall/have a cultural policy change(d) accordingly? Finally: What kind of epistemology is at play when the impact of arts is assessed?

A pivotal concept for this project is cultural policy; both in the explicit and the implicit sense of the word (cf. Ahearne 2008, Throsby 2009). Cultural policy is a highly relevant focal point for the study of cultural conditions underlying social change. Cultural policy is in essence attempts to let culture in the narrow sense (cultural expression/ the arts) influence culture in the broad sense; forming, changing or challenging “the sphere within which various groups and individuals think, communicate and act”, to quote the SAMKUL work programme. The belief in a social impact of the arts has a long intellectual history, as described by e.g. Belfiore and Bennett (2008), and such a belief lies at the core of most European varieties of cultural policy. In the UK in particular, the positive social impacts of the arts (more narrowly defined) became one of the hallmarks of New Labour’s cultural policy in the 90s (Belfiore 2002). France has seen similar developments (Looseley 2005) whilst in Norway the idea continues to be framed within an inclusion and access context, most lately in the latest white paper (stortingsmelding) on culture, inclusion and participation. We are interested in the way the belief in the power of arts is transformed to different kinds of political practice, and how this practice systematically combines the question of aesthetic valuation on the one hand with the question of effect and impact on the other. This can be interpreted as a form of translation and/or transformation of values – from aesthetic value (cf. Fenner 2008) to e.g. political, economical or democratic value. This project will study this process of translating/transforming values as it unfolds in concrete versions of cultural policy.

Work packages
WP 1.  Democratization of music: The ideology and aesthetical practice of Concerts Norway (Rikskonsertene) and Concerts Sweden (Rikskonserter). A comparative analysis. Ole Marius Hylland (Telemark Research Institute) and Erling Bjurström (University of Linköping).

Concerts Norway (1968-) and Concerts Sweden (1968-2011) have a parallel history, as national organizations aiming to democratize access to quality music (cf. e.g. Karlsson 1971, Osland 1993, Gustafson 2011, Solumsmoen and  Hansen 2006, Karlsen 1998). At the same time, both the organizations themselves and the technological, cultural and political context they operate within have changed dramatically during this period. Concerts Sweden was dissolved in 2011 (and partly reorganized as Music Development and Heritage Sweden (Statens Musikverk)), and Concerts Norway has also recently been reorganized. The general ambitions of these two organizations are comparable: Concerts Norway’s objective is to “make live music of high artistic quality accessible for people throughout the country”. Concerts Sweden’s primary goal was to ensure “live/living [levande] music throughout the country”.

The study of the two organizations will start off by examining the different explicit and implicit legitimation of the two institutional schemes. It will analyze what the different kinds of legitimation imply about the relations between aesthetic expressions and societal development. 1) Is musical democracy and/or democratization viewed as a response to acknowledged challenges? By comparison nationally: are the Norwegian and Swedish efforts to distribute quality music motivated differently? By comparison historically: How does the motivation of the late 60s compare to the motivation of the early 2010s? 3) Is there a Concerts Norway/Sweden aesthetic, and if so, how has this been related to the explicit goals of the organizations?

There are two aspects of deterritorialization that relates quite directly to the work of these organizations: digitization and cultural globalization. The first line of development represents a dematerialized and massive increase in the availability of music. The second line of development, not independent of the former, represents a movement from a monocultural to a multicultural context, to which both the Norwegian and Swedish organizations to some degree have responded.

This study will focus upon the changing relations between aesthetic valuation, political relevance and perceived social impact of Concerts Norway and Concerts Sweden. It will do so by analyzing 1) policy documents preparing the establishing, reorganising and dissolving of Concerts Norway/Sweden, 2) development of repertoire and processes of inclusion/exclusion of musical genre and subgenre, 3) practices of quality assessment in both organizations. The empirical data of this study will be documents, both public documents and archive material, public debate on the role and development of Concerts Norway/Sweden, as well as qualitative interviews with leading figures of the organizations at different points in time.

WP 2. Textual negotiations on art vs. society: The music policy of Arts Council Norway 1985-2015. Heidi Stavrum (Telemark Research Institute/University College of Telemark)

The Arts Council Norway is the country’s largest single negotiator between aesthetics and politics, with a total yearly budget of more than 1 billion NOK. The large part of Arts Council’s work is rooted in a firm belief that the production, distribution and consumption of art plays a vital role in a democratic society, both as reflecting and answering relevant societal challenges. As such, the council has an undisputable role of power, being the central source of funding for large parts of the Norwegian cultural sector (Bjørkås 2010, Grepstad 2010). This role also includes the power to influence how the relationship between aesthetic expression and societal context is described, discussed and understood. To study this influence, this part of the project has as its empirical vantage point a set of data that hitherto is an uninvestigated source material: applications from artists and cultural workers.  Applications for funding of the arts has been labelled “the primary arena for a discourse on the arts”, the point being that in many cases it is the ability to textually describe artistic intention, process and an expected outcome, that determines whether a project is supported and eventually gets realized (Hylland et al 2010, Hylland et al 2011). This study focuses upon the development of a music policy from the Arts Council over a period of 30 years, and will use a textual vantage point to analyze how aesthetical value is considered related to external, social value. In the years being covered by this study, there are important developments informing the analysis of this individual study:  1) an expansion of aesthetical territory – inclusion of new genres in public music policy (Gripsrud 2002, Langdalen 2008), 2) a dematerialization and (consequent) expansion in musical presence, first of all being made possible by digitization (Lorentzen 2009), 3) a de-nationalization of both aesthetical scope and political goals for a cultural policy (Bergsgard and Vassenden 2011). These developments can once again be analytically fused by the concept of deterritorialization.

Following these topics, the main research questions for this study will be: In the discursive exchange between strategy documents, funding announcements, applications, bureaucratic processing, judgment and response, what kind of aesthetical and textual negotiation takes place between the council and the cultural workers? On the one hand: How is aesthetic value and artistic content textualized in applications? On the other hand:  How explicitly, and in what terms, are the external motivations described by the applicants themselves? What kinds of changes over time are evident in what kind of aesthetic expressions and/or external motivations that are being found politically relevant by the Arts Council?

Answers to these questions will be based on a text-based analysis of 1) applications for different funding schemes in 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010, 2) the legitimating of funding schemes in announcement texts, strategy and policy documents from Arts Council Norway, 3) internal documents regarding funding decisions. (We will have a close cooperation with the archive of the Arts Council in these matters.) The analysis of these documents will aim to trace changes in the way aesthetical value, societal relevance, as well as the relations between these two, are described. Hence, the methodological perspective of this study will combine a textual analysis emphasizing conceptual, rhetorical and ideological aspects, with a sociological and diachronic perspective on cultural policy.


WP 3. Music and children: a comparative analysis of Norwegian and British (educational) music policy. Egil Bjørnsen (Agder Research), Jane Woddis (University of Warwick) and Jonothan Neelands (University of Warwick).

Music policy for children (which represents arts policy for children more widely) continues to be at the forefront of cultural policy, and its foundation on a strong understanding of the bildung potential in professional music, mediated as part of such a policy persists. There is hence a strong continuity in arts policy directed by music’s alleged transforming potential. This bildung in a cultural policy context can be perceived in two different, albeit related, ways. Bildung primarily as self-cultivation (Barnard 1969, Bruford 1975, Burrow 1993, Forster 2002, Hermeling 2003, Vestheim 1995) where each subject is trusted to find their own path to personal growth versus an object-approach to bildung, which relies on the expertise of a strong cultural leadership, which has, to cite Mathew Arnold, a ‘passion for diffusing, for making prevail, for carrying from one end of society to the other, the best knowledge, the best ideas of their time” (Arnold 1935:70).

This study aims to explore how these different, albeit related, approaches to bildung is and has been present in music education for children and young people, how they differ between Norway and the UK and finally how this can presuppose a positive social impact in the future. The main attention of this study will be on Norway, and two established scheme for music education and music mediation. These two schemes, which are the arts in school programme Den Kulturelle Skolesekken (DKS), and the cultural schools (Kulturskolen) that can be found in every municipality in Norway, manifest two relatively different approaches to the idea that music has positive social impacts on children and young people. The cultural schools are embedded in a relatively long tradition of participation-driven music and arts activities whilst DKS is a relatively new invention. Both initiatives are founded on the idea that the arts and music have a strong bildung potential. However, the route to this bildung differs between the two, where the former is founded on the idea that participation in aesthetic practices is what can facilitate such bildung whilst the latter advocates the mere exposure to music.

DKS can be perceived as part of a trend in the Nordic countries whereby the state intervenes ‘to ensure that children are exposed to the kinds of cultural activities it considers appropriate’ (Johanson 2010:399). What marks out particularly the cultural schools, is their role as agent for social mobility. This dimension has been much less prevalent in British arts policy, where the emphasis traditionally has been more on availability rather than education (Bilton 1997). Music education has been the territory for independent charities and other private initiatives rather than as part of public policy. Arts education more generally has in recent years been replaced by a policy which has been described as more crudely instrumental and which has come to emphasise ‘creative learning’ and ‘school improvement’ rather than the ‘critical appreciation’ of the arts (Neelands and Choe 2010:292). This is epitomised through the now defunct Creative Partnerships which aimed to bring creative artists to work with teachers in schools to help them unlock their creative potential. This work is now partly brought forward by the charity Creative, Culture and Education (CCE) but on a significantly lower scale.

Methodologically, this study will rely on a discursive approach, which aims to analyse how music education’s bildung potential is understood amongst the arts and education sectors, within policy documents, amongst elite figures and within society more generally. There is a range of policy documents which aims to legislate both DKS and the cultural schools emanating both from central government (notably the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Education and Research) as well as their reception and debate in parliament and finally from different bodies that aim to execute these policies on the ground, for example Arts Council Norway (in which the secretariat for DKS is located) and in the Norwegian Council for Cultural Schools (Norsk Kulturskoleråd), which organises all cultural schools. This textual analysis will be combined with ethnographic research activities within a DKS and cultural school context, which in practice will imply both participatory observations at DKS events and in the cultural schools, as well as interviews with teachers and managers within the cultural schools, teachers in primary school and cultural practitioners who operates within a DKS context. Central politicians, bureaucrats and elite figures within the cultural sector will also be interviewed.

In the UK focus will be on the now defunct Creative Partnerships, given this programme’s flagship status. Again, the analysis of policy papers combined with officials and politicians (all of whom are easily identifiable) involved in the planning of this scheme will be interviewed. Finally, other charities involved in music mediation and music education for children and young people will be made subject to interviews combined with participatory observation. The final selection of mediation and education providers will be carried out in collaboration with colleagues at the Institute of Education, University of Warwick.
WP4. Assessment of social impact. A critical meta-study. Per Mangset (University College of Telemark), Egil Bjørnsen (Agder Research) and Ole Marius Hylland (Telemark Research Institute).

What is the relationship between scientific knowledge and cultural policy making, and how receptive is the cultural policy discourse to observations, analysis and evidence which runs counter to hegemonic understandings of the transforming power of the arts? These are key questions in this part of the study, which will analyse both general conceptions of social impact and actual efforts to measure this impact.

Cultural policies aiming at social inclusion and development have been subject to fierce criticism (Belfiore and Bennett 2008 and 2010, Belfiore 2009 and 2010, Caust 2003, Gray 2007) and can be situated within an increasingly common lament about the arts allegedly being beleaguered and their intrinsic values being threatened in the face of crude instrumentality (Duelund 2003, McGuigan 2004). The policy rationale to combat social exclusion through cultural policy, or at least to facilitate some positive social impact is only to a limited extent informed by empirical evidence into whether cultural provision actually harbours such powers and is thus an example of how cultural policy as an agent negotiating the relation between the aesthetic and society to a large extent is based on convictions and unstated assumptions. The abovementioned critique of these policies is equally without empirical foundation. This may be because cultural policy research have been too preoccupied with the analysis of rhetorical policy statements as opposed to ‘actual, substantial structural changes’ in the field of culture (Mangset 2008:3). Recent research into Norwegian arts policy discourse conclude instead that arts policy best can be described as “ritual” and informed by an abstract faith (Røyseng 2007) and that the understanding of the arts’ bildung potential forms a discursive practice that is internalized to such an extent amongst both elites in the field of arts and culture as well as amongst the population more widely, that exactly how Bildung is facilitated does not need to be made subject to further interrogation and can be left opaque (Bjørnsen 2009).

Historical meta-studies of the social impacts of the arts have been conducted before (Belfiore and Bennett 2008), but have not been based on any empirical interrogation into either how contemporary policies are informed by the conviction that the arts harbour positive social impacts, nor on how such policies pan out in practice. This study aims to rectify this, within a comparative context. Part of the empirical data for this study will therefore be on the limited literature, aimed at documenting impact and effect. The alleged measurable social impacts can be found within several branches of social and educational policy, like culture and health (cf. e.g. Koenraad 2011, Bygren et. al 1996, Frykman and Hansen 2009), art therapy (cf. e.g. Lusebrink 2004, Luzzatto and Gabriel 2000) and creative participation’s impact on education achievements (cf. e.g. Bamford 2006). Adding to this the study will also interrogate how this limited literature, as well as the more or less unstated assumptions, have informed cultural policy discourse. The objective of this part of the project is thus twofold. First a historic and theoretical interrogation of the epistemology of both cultural policy development and cultural policy critique. The focus will be on three countries; Norway, United Kingdom and France, countries with different cultural policy models (Hillman-Chartrand and McGaughey 1989) but which all, as already mentioned, have given attention to how cultural policy can negotiate the relations between the aesthetic and the social. Through a critical study of the existing impact literature in these three countries, this meta-study aims to get a better understanding of the epistemology at play in the making of cultural policy. Adding to this we shall also shed light on how cultural policy negotiates the social impacts of the arts within this very project. What kind of epistemology has informed the social impact agenda of Concerts Norway (and Concert Sweden), the music policy of the Norwegian Arts Council, music mediation and music education for children and finally culture in foreign policy?


WP5. Ph. D. project: The use of culture in foreign policy. Ola K. Berge (Telemark Research Institute)

The Ph.D. project will examine the way the arts have been presented and interpreted within a foreign policy discourse: How are the arts legitimized and explained within Norwegian foreign policy? How are art forms selected, and what do they represent with regards to (peculiar) foreign policy aesthetic assessments and rationalities (is there a certain diplomacy art)? How are questions on instrumentality negotiated? The study closely relates to the concept of deterritorialization, by investigating foreign cultural policy in light of a) globalization, migration and post-colonialism, b) digitization and c) the collapse of distinguished quality hierarchies, eclectism and hybridization. In addition general politics of welfare state development is included as local contextual prerequisites. Secondly, the project will compare Norwegian practice to foreign cultural policy in France and USA, to supplement the analysis with both neighbouring and divergent systems of cultural policy (cf. Hillman-Chartrand and McCaughey 1989), public diplomacy (Leonard 2002) and post colonial legacies.

The arts have had a continual position within foreign policy and diplomacy as they have been considered to have central representative functions, both mirroring and constituting national cultural peculiarities (Mitchell 1986). Still, particularly over the past 20 years, foreign policy’s use of the arts has both gained importance and changed considerably from its point of departure (Belanger 1999). To be culturally powerful, or even culturally significant, in today’s world, Belanger claims, “a country must exercise control over [transnational communication and economic] flows, which are increasing in tandem with the development of new information and communication technologies and trade liberalization” (ibid: 677). Hence, foreign policy is no longer only for maintaining relations with other governments, but just as much for non-governmental individuals and institutions (Murrow 1963, in Leonard 2002). One interpretation of this is that the arts, as symbolic signifier of demarcation, greatly have supplemented (maybe even replaced) geographical national state borders. Notably, this has resulted in a change both content-wise (what type of art and the aesthetic assessments made) and in the way this art is now legitimized and explained; the arts have moved from objects of display, which in reverse brought back impulses, to a much more ambiguous object of complex multilateral communication (Mitchell 1986, Nye & Owens 1996, Rothkopf 1997). As a result a series of paradoxes and dilemmas occur; one of the most prominent is the way arts are used both to mark territorial borders and to contribute to a post-nation borderlessness.

All main reflections will departure from theoretical strands of considering foreign policy as discursive formations. The point of departure is that it is productive to “read” and interpret diplomacy and foreign policy as a discourse where knowledge and meaning is produced and (re)distributed. The arts are produced as meaning in reference to other dominant elements of the discourse. The exact content of the discourse and the way it is negotiated is of course an important field of inquiry within the project. However, as a wide range of scholars (Foucault 1971, Bourdieu 1993, Fairclough 2003) point out, such content is closely connected to the collective use and justification of power. As the arts become part of foreign policy, it is fair to anticipate that such power relations will affect both politics and aesthetics.

Empirically, the project will include extensive document studies and fieldwork, including interviews and field studies, in Norway, France and USA. It aims at analyzing policy documents framing the actual policy within the field. Furthermore, interviews with both politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats and artists will make up the empirical grounds of analyzing aesthetic assessments, power relations and quality negotiations.

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