Norwegian version

Political Dynamics of the Cultural Sector (POLYCUL)

This project depart from the hypothesis that explanations for developments in cultural policy, and in particular its failure to realize programmatic goals, are found in the dynamics of interest-based politics that at work in the cultural sector.

About the project

This project depart from the hypothesis that explanations for developments in cultural policy, and in particular its failure to realize programmatic goals, are found in the dynamics of interest-based politics that at work in the cultural sector. The aim of the project is to generate new empirical and theoretical understanding of these political dynamics, the forms and outcomes these take in various domains of the sector and how they shape developments within the sector.

As such, the project addresses an important gap in knowledge within the field of cultural policy research, which has been concerned mainly with the study of the formulation of official strategies and goals of cultural policy and their implementation. Through the development of the concept of “state patronage”, the project aims to promote theoretically informed critical understanding of cultural policy within the field of cultural policy research.

More specifically, the project addresses questions of what the political dynamics of the cultural sector are made up of, in terms of forms of actors, relations, interests and actions, and how these enable or restrict changes in cultural policy, the distribution of resources within the sector and its responses to challenges of digitalization.

These questions will be illuminated through empirical studies in Norway and other Nordic countries that rely on qualitative and quantitative methods from the social sciences. The studies will generate new knowledge on the relations and obligations of policy makers at various levels of government to actors that seek to influence cultural policy.

They will illuminate policy making processes in the cultural sector related to organization reforms, investments in infrastructure, regulations of the book market and the role of digitally mediated literature. Also illuminated in the project is the role of private donations and donators in the cultural sector.

Work packages and case studies

  • Work package 1. Relations and responsibilities of policy makers

    • Work package leader: Sigrid Røyseng
    • Participants: Erik Henningsen, Tore Slaatta

    Politicians and civil servants who take on roles as policy- and decision makers within the cultural sector will often find themselves under pressure from multiple directions and subject to conflicting demands: They must attend to the realization of declared goals of cultural policy within given budgetary restraints and balance this against a range of other concerns. Included here are responsibilities they have toward organizations that are beneficiaries of public support, demands placed on them from interest organizations, their allegiances to political parties, other sections of government and regional and local interest they represent, as well as allegiances to personal political networks. The aim of this work-package is to map and analyze the forms of such relations policy makers in the cultural sector enter into and how these shape and restrain their opportunities for action and roles as policy- and decision-makers. For this end, we will carry out a large number (40-50) of qualitative interviews with current and former politicians and civil servants in the cultural sector, at the national regional and local level of government. At the national level, this includes ministers and deputy ministers for culture, members of the parliamentary committee on cultural affairs and civil servants from the Ministry of Culture. At the local and regional level of government, we will interview persons with corresponding political and administrative roles from counties and municipalities that have separate political and administrative organization for cultural affairs. Inspired by social network analysis, interview subjects will be invited to depict the various kinds of actors they have relations to in their capacity as politicians/civil servants and to describe the character of these relations and their weight of obligation. A second topic of the interviews is the interview subjects’ assessments of their room for maneuver or opportunities for making changes to cultural policy and reasons for this. A third topic is interview subjects assessments of how their roles as politicians/civil servants in the cultural sector differ from corresponding roles they have/have had in other policy domains. On this basis, we aim to identify patterns of relations and responsibilities of policy makers in the cultural sector at various levels of government, and how these shape their roles as actors and political dynamics within the sector. We will assess the relevance of the findings on political dynamics that emerge from the qualitative interviews by coupling these with descriptive analysis of official statistics on public expenses to the cultural sector at the state (state budget) and municipal level (KOSTRA). Here, we will look at changes in priority between subsectors over time (1990-2018), turnover of recipients of state funding in this period and how the structure of public funding in the cultural sector differs from other policy domains at the state level. 

  • Work package 2. Policymaking processes in the cultural sector

    • Work package leader: Ragnar Audunson

    This work package comprises a range of case studies and a PhD-project concerning ongoing processes of policymaking that in different ways illustrate dynamics of interest-based politics in the cultural sector. 

    Case study 1. Regionalization in the cultural sector 

    • Participants: Roger Blomgren, Erik Henningsen

    In 2011, Sweden implemented a reform whereby responsibility for state funding of parts of the cultural sector was transferred to regional governments. For several years, Norwegian state authorities have announced that a related form of devolution of state responsibilities will be undertaken in the country’s cultural sector, in connection with a comprehensive organization reform of regional governments (Henningsen & Blomgren 2017). Radical suggestions for regionalization of the cultural sector by an expert group in 2018, sparked heated debate in the sector and was modified considerably in a policy document issued later by the Ministry of Culture. In 2020 the ministry decided to cancel the regionalization reform. This case study aims to illuminate RQ 1 and 2 in particular. The case study will look into the dynamics of interest-based politics that has unfolded in connection with this process of policymaking, inside and outside public arenas. We will focus in particular on the roles museums, theatres and their interest organizations have played in the process. From a public hearing it appears that in this process these actors illustrate a tendency among cultural sector actors to “close ranks” in order to exert pressure on the government. It appears also that what is at stake in this process is not only the security of public finance of these cultural institutions but symbolic issues, pertaining to their classification as “national” or “regional”. The study will be based on document studies and qualitative interviews with actors involved in the policymaking process. Based on previous research in Sweden, comparisons will be made between the reform processes in the two countries. 

    Case study 2. Laws on fixed prices on books 

    • Participants: Terje Colbjørnsen, Håkon Larsen

     Book laws regulating, among other things, restrictions on price competition on new books, is an important policy tool for the European book industry. In Norway, whether to introduce such a law has been debated for many years, with the interest organizations in the book industry arguing for the introduction of such a law, facing considerable scepticism among the general public, and individual actors in the industry that are not members of the interest organizations. Politically, there is a division, with the left arguing in favour of book laws and the right wanting to liberalize the book industry. It appears also that there has previously been a division within the government on this issue, between the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Finance. At present, there exists an agreement between the publishers association and the booksellers’ association, regulating fixed prices on books. When allowing such an agreement, the Government granted the book industry an exemption from competition law, due to the importance of books as a commodity. The content of such an agreement has to be renegotiated every second year, creating dynamism in the discussions on literature policy. This case study will be based on document studies and qualitative interviews with involved actors. By studying these discussions, and the activities of various actors pushing for book laws, the existing agreements or free prices on books, we will be able to increase our understanding of the political dynamics of the cultural sector. 

    Case study 3. New main libraries in Oslo and Helsinki

    • Participants: Ragnar Audunson, Eeva-Liisa Eskola, Gunilla Widen

    This study addresses RQ 1 and 2 in particular. Over the last two decades, there has been an increased focus on libraries as open democratic places. The focus on public libraries as places is reflected also in large investments in prestigious new library buildings, for example the new main libraries in Helsinki and Oslo. The new main library in Helsinki was recently opened and in Oslo, it is to be inaugurated in 2020. In both cities, the planning processes of the new main libraries has gone on for decades and has passed through several stages of projecting. In Oslo, several locations was evaluated and almost decided upon, until it was decided that the new library should be built on the premises of the closed down Western Railway station. However, in what appeared as a political “horse trading deal” in 2008 between the Ministry of Culture and the city government, the library was relocated to its present location close to the Opera house. The location of the library appears to a large extent to be a result of interests external to the library field. This study will look into the decision making processes related to the new main libraries in the two cities from the 1980s until the present, on the basis of document studies and interviews with involved actors. Studying these process might function as laboratory, highlighting the dynamics resulting from the interplay between stakeholders and political and professional interests in this field of cultural policy. This relates, on the one hand, to interest struggles over the location of the buildings. On the other hand, it relates to the form and architectural design of the buildings. Whereas plans from the 1990s wanted to integrate libraries in functionalist shopping malls, the projects that eventually materialized in Helsinki and Oslo and Byporten are very much in line with the international trend of investments in iconic or landmark buildings for cultural institutions. As such, these projects may be illustrative of a general change in the role of cultural policy toward a politics of display. 

    Case study 4. Ebooks and digital audio books 

    • Participants: Terje Colbjørnsen, Ann Steiner, Kim Tallerås

    This case study will illuminate RQ 4 specifically. The distribution and dissemination of digital books (ebooks and digital audio books) to libraries have been the subject of controversy in Norway and the other Scandinavian countries in recent years, exemplary of how the political dynamics of the cultural field can rise to the surface of public debate. This case study examines the ways in which the introduction of digital books affects the political dynamics of the literary field, regarding relations between actors, different articulations of cultural values, and decision-making processes, including the formation of laws and agreements. At the heart are matters of cultural economics and perceptions of societal mission, framed by laws and agreements that set the terms for the public distribution of books and for author and publisher compensations. Libraries and publishers have been most vocal in the debates, but significant actors are also authors and politicians. Similar debates have taken place in all Scandinavian countries, but with different outcomes. The study will be based on analyses of policy documents, interviews with actors in the political and cultural fields, as well as a broad content analysis of public debate on digital books from the introduction of in 2009 to the recent debate on audio books. The study of actors and policy documents will mainly consider a Norwegian context, whereas the study of the public debate will compare dynamics in Norway and Sweden. 

    PhD project

    In addition to the case studies, the Faculty of Social Sciences, Oslo Metropolitan University will contribute the finance of a PhD-scholarship to this work-package. The PhD-project is to be tied to the project’s general topic of interest based politics.

  • Work package 3. Private donations to the cultural sector

    • Work package leader: Håkon Larsen
    • Participants: Ida Uppstrøm Berg, Boel Christensen Scheel, Sigrid Stokstad

    Private donations represent one of the underlying mechanisms that shape the political dynamics of the cultural sector (Dahl & Helseth, 2006). There is a long history in Norway of initiations and donations from private patrons in forms of art objects or art funding. These donations become part of public planning activities and budgets. According to Veiteberg (2019), the influence of private collectors on museums, galleries and other public arenas on which objects of art are exhibited has been increasing in Norway in recent years. As Norway is characterized by a strong state and an egalitarian culture, there exists significant scepticism towards private donations to public art projects, both among cultural workers and the general public. When wealthy individuals want to donate art to a public art project or a public arts organization, the usual response is public outcry. Nevertheless, the criticism usually dries out once the projects are finished. What causes this outcry, and why is it silenced once the projects are finished? By studying this dynamic we get to investigate the relations between private donors, arts organizations, public authorities and cultural workers. We will investigate cases related to donations of large art collections to local municipalities and to local and national art museums in historical and contemporary context, such as Ekebergparken in Oslo and the “Kunstsilo” in Kristiansand. When it comes to donations linked to new buildings or other forms of land use, the relations between donators and public authorities are not limited to actors within the cultural field - it may also engage planning authorities, especially municipalities, property owners and others. We will investigate both historical and contemporary cases, related to donations of large art collections to local municipalities and to local and national art museums. We will map out the actors, forms of relations, forms of interests and forms of actions. The case study will include state and municipal cultural policy, but also point at the donors impact on the evolving cultural policies within the public sector. 

  • Work package 4. Synthesis study

    • Work package leader: Erik Henningsen
    • Participants: All project participants

    The aim of this work package is to develop the overriding analytical framework in the project. Through a range of project seminars and conference panels, we will synthetize insights and findings from the work packages and case studies described above with regards to the research questions posed in the project and the development of the concept of state patronage in the study of cultural policy.


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