Towards cultural democracy : contradiction and crisis in British and U.S. cultural policy 1870-1990
This study examines the theoretical contradictions of 'cultural democracy' in Britain and the United States. Cultural democracy here refers to the claim that community participation in cultural activities (artistic production and consumption) leads to participation in a democratic society. In Britain 'cultural democracy' has been associated especially with the 'community arts' movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Using Gramsci's theory of 'hegemony' as a framework for analysis, I will argue that the theoretical inconsistencies of 'cultural democracy' in the 1970s and 1980s can be traced back to a fundamental contradiction in British and U.S. cultural policy, between 'materialist' and 'idealist' conceptions of culture. This contradiction has resulted in moments of crisis in British and U.S. cultural policy, followed by periods of 'unstable equilibrium'. In support of this argument I will focus on four of these moments of contradiction and crisis. First I will develop my hypothetical model of contradiction, crisis and equilibrium in relation to the British community arts movement in the 1970s and 1980s. Then I will apply this model to three successive 'moments of crisis' in British and U.S. cultural policy: the 'civilising mission' of the late nineteenth century public cultural institutions in Britain and the U.S., particularly the settlement house; the U.S. federal arts projects of the 1930s; dilemmas of access and accountability in recent media policy. I will conclude by exploring some alternative theoretical formulations of the relationship between 'culture' and 'community' and their possible application to cultural policy and cultural democracy.