How Discourses Emerge in Cultural Policy

A field study on German Agenda Setting

Von August 2013 bis august 2016

Claudia Steigerwald (Betreuer: Prof dr Martin Tröndle)

Cultural policy is not merely informed by a ‘neutral’ operation of enabling cultural production, but is heavily influenced by the strategic and implicit goals of its actors (Mulcahy 2006: 320). Cultural policy topics garner attention by affiliating themselves to broader issues of interest to state officials, such as education, social and/or economic concerns (Belfiore 2010: 3). Kingdon has used the metaphor of an open “policy window” when advocates get the opportunity “to push their pet solutions, or to push attention to their special problems” (Kingdon 1995: 165). Such policy windows are dependent on “focusing events” (ibid. 94), namely, external factors that facilitate the apprehension of a certain topic as being the solution for a long-standing problem, changing the dynamics of cultural policy. On the flip side, the intentional use of language for the advocacy of certain cultural policy issues can generate connectivity to more general societal concerns. The aim of the PhD-project is to show, in the context of German cultural policy discourse, how such issues have infiltrated public discussion and shaped cultural policy decision-making throughout the last decades. We will focus on the German “Neue Kulturpolitik” [New Cultural Policy], as a term through which to analyse implicit policy making. The key thrust behind this term was to provide greater access to cultural institutions for all citizens, as well as fostering alternative institutions other than those already well established (such as generously funded traditional museums, orchestras etc). Having its roots in the 1970’s, this discourse has now been reactivated or prolonged by a new term, called “kulturelle Bildung” [cultural education]. “Cultural education” is seen as means to integrate socially disadvantaged groups such as young immigrants, but also to promote general “creativity”. An important trigger in this case, was the result of the “PISA”-Study, a comparative analysis by the OECD that demonstrated poor reading and maths skills for non-native schoolchildren. Departing from the PISA study, this issue firstly gained attention through its inclusion in the “Enquete”-Commission “Kultur in Deutschland” from the German Parliament and later, through its dissemination within federal and state politics and support programs. Though the actual value of cultural education for its proclaimed purposes was never proved, the idea of “Cultural education” succeeds in gaining support from private and state funders throughout the country and therefore captures a good part of the money distributed by project-based funding. The research questions the PhD-project will address are thusly comprised of the following: Who promotes the discourse of “Cultural education,” and with what goal? What actors, motives and networks contribute to its predominance? Through what semantic strategies and events can it come to display political impact? The methodological approach is two-fold: First, a discourse analysis has been applied to documents including: public statements published by political interest groups; scientific discussions of the topic; as well as related media coverage. Additionally, an ethnographic approach has been conducted by participating in various conferences to gain potential insights concerning the implicit goals from relevant actors in the field. These initial procedures elucidate the formation of the discourse, which are then tested through interviews with advocates and opponents of the discourse. Other than previous research in Germany, which primarily focuses on the evaluation of individual case studies, this project looks towards shedding light on the formation and impact of cultural policy discourse in a systematic perspective and thus strives for a new understanding of German cultural policy history from the 70’s until today.