The Lack of Ethics in Cultural Policy Studies

Cultural Policy Studies emerged as a distinct subfield within Cultural Studies in the early 1990s, and is distinguished from its parent field by its focus on activism through policy. Adherents of cultural studies have traditionally aimed to illuminate how power is maintained by an elite few in the West through its examination of cultural practices and meanings. Cultural policy studies goes one step further and involves itself within the institutions that actively regulate the cultural industries such that the inequalities exposed through cultural studies scholarship might be eliminated.

The huge problem with this approach is that it is a blatant program of social engineering, and one which lacks any foundation of ethical principles to guide its practitioners. 

Insofar as the field is founded upon the philosophies of the French postmodern thinkers of the 1960s and 70s such as Michel Foucault, who deny the possibility of objective truth, cultural value (criteria of artistic excellence) and cultural values (for instance, shared beliefs and customs of a national culture) is deemed to be 100% culturally constructed (that is not at all biologically determined) and thus relative. As such, the average cultural theorist advocates for large scale intervention to change Western cultural beliefs and values. Multicultural policies setting out objectives and strategies to achieve greater representation of cultural diversity in Australian film and television is one such example. 

Cultural policy theorists proceed with these goals as though it is the morally correct course of action. However, by its own theoretical logic, moral righteousness is impossible. 

Second, if there is no objective truth to be discovered, and cultural value is relative, how can we then accept the cultural studies axiom that the unequal distribution of social power is socially constructed, or that it can be fixed through rigorous social planning.

The third core problem is that, despite the fact that there is no truth, only knowledge produced by those with authority for their own benefit, the successful implementation of policy objectives by cultural theorists can only be interpreted as the exercise of oppressive power, which is precisely what cultural theorists claim to eradicate. For an incisive discussion on some other problems stemming from postmodern theory see this video.

Any degree of self-reflexivity should reveal to the cultural policy theorist that they may not be seeking equality for the marginalized groups that they purport to represent, but rather, may be seeking to exercise power over the private lives of individuals by wresting control of the institutions that regulate meaning. And not just any individuals, they seek to regulate the private lives of tax paying individuals who pay the (substantially higher) wages earned by cultural theorists. 

In other words, whether or not the cultural policy studies scholar seeks political and social power for the benefit of themselves or the benefit of society, it is exercised at the expense of the people that they seek to control.


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