The Cultural Economy
Edited by Helmut K. Anheier and Raj Isar, The Cultures and Globalization Series 2, SAGE Publications, London, 2008, 661 pp., ISBN: 9781412934749
A well known fact in the social sciences and humanities, already noted by Raymond Williams, is that the word "culture" is one of the most complex words in English language. This fact is often used as an argument for those who are dealing with cultural research, but feel somewhat overwhelmed by the plethora of different meanings, starting points and theories in the field. The second volume of the Cultures and Globalization Series, entitled The Cultural Economy, tries to engage that feeling head-on by reducing the complexity of the cultural field and making it more accessible and compatible with other areas. The editors' main goal is to create a coherent picture of the rising interconnections between culture, economy and globalization. This is a daunting task, which in the end shows just how difficult it is to create integrated knowledge in today's compartmentalized social sciences and humanities.
A "strong editorial hand" is implemented throughout the book to create a unified volume which transcends a mere collection of diverse papers. The editors therefore proposed working definitions of key areas for the volume. Culture is seen in a broad sense as "… social construction, articulation and reception of meaning" (p. 3), which is closely related to the concept of communication. Globalization, as another broad term, is defined, following Warnier, as referring to "… the worldwide interconnections and interdependencies that all have deep origins in world history but today are being increasingly and ever more rapidly brought about through the movement of objects (…), meanings (…) and people across regions and intercontinental space." (p. 3); and finally, cultural economy is defined "… as an economic system for the production, distribution and consumption of cultural goods and services through market as well as non-market mechanisms" (p. 3). Forty-nine authors and contributors in twenty-nine articles (including the foreword and an introduction by the editors) tackle this issue of cultural economy from various perspectives (social sciences, humanities, arts and policy studies) and local realities.
Gilberto Gil's foreword opens the book. Followed by the introduction by the editors of the series, which includes five sets of questions posed to the contributors of the volume, which, when answered, formed an implicit line of thought that is discernible throughout the whole book. The questions concerned the differences between cultural economy and economic globalization, between cultural economy and the aesthetic realm, different types of organizational forms of cultural economy, the "winners" and the "losers" of the cultural economy, and . policy implications and recommendations.
The book has a complex structure, divided into two main parts. The first part entitled The Cultural Economy Today consists of an introduction, four major issues or thematic fields, and a closing article reflecting on present and future issues of the cultural economy. The second part is made up of Cultural Indicator Suites.
In the introductory article to the first part called Cultural Economy: The Shape of the Field, Stuart Cunningham, John Banks and Jason Potts, develop four models of cultural economy in relation to the rest of the economy: the welfare model, the competitive model, the growth model and the innovation or creative economy model. The authors conclude that "culture is part of the process of economic change that in turn changes the conditions of culture. Cultural dynamics come first, economic dynamics come second, but then cultural dynamics come third, starting the process again" (p. 25).
As noted earlier, the first part is further divided into four issues or thematic fields; the first being Globalization and Localization, which consists of four more theoretically oriented articles. They discuss the questions of value, cultural exchange, cultural production and law. The second part deals with Actors and Forms in cultural economy and includes three articles raising the questions of free culture and Creative Commons, cultural entrepreneurs, and intergovernmental policy actors. The third part consisting of ten articles is entitled Regional Realities. Contributors from all over the world write on different local views from which globalization and cultural economy are experienced and analysed. Regions and continents included are as follows: Africa, South Asia, East Asia, South Korea, Central Asia, Europe, European post-communist and transitional countries, Southeastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the USA. The fourth part of the section entitled Fields and Genres deals with specific fields and sectors within cultural economy. It also consists of ten articles embracing subjects from film and television, the gaming industry, digital media, fashion, through festivals, the Bahia carnival, indigenous art, handicrafts and soft industrial design, to the specific locality of New York's Chelsea District.
Part One, The Cultural Economy, of the book closes with an article by Allen J. Scott entitled Cultural Economy: Retrospect and Prospect. Its author addresses globalization as a process leading to a "…polycentric pattern of production on the supply side and increasing variety of options on the demand side" (p. 317). In the light of the economic development, several policy recommendations were made, especially regarding the spatial logic of different cultural economy sectors, the need to intervene at critical junctures in the production system, and the urban milieu and the ability of the sector to reach out to the consumers in the wider world.
Part Two of the volume, Indicator Suites, written by Helmut Anheier, consists of very detailed and meticulous data on key issues in the relationships between culture and economy in the context of globalization. The data are presented in a graphically very attractive way and through a very complex framework.
The book provides a good presentation of our contemporary global socio-cultural and theoretical pluralism, but places itself on a thin line between coherence on the one side and pluralism which can turn into a cacophony on the other. However, it remains well within reasonable boundaries due to the strong influence of the editors on the overall contribution of different authors. What is evident from the start is that the book is very sophisticated and precise, sometimes written with a very dense language that is at times hard to follow. Nevertheless, this book is not meant to be read in a few days but to be a long lasting source of information. In this flexible and shape-shifting field of cultural economy and globalization, only time will tell whether it will stand the test of time.
(A previous announcement of the volume by Culturelink is available at www.culturelink.org/news/publics/2008/publication2008-021.html.)