The International Conference on Cultural Policy Research 2014. Concluding Remarks.

by Per Mangset

Copyright: Andreas Hartmann

All the participants in the audience of the Theater für Niedersachsen Hildesheim

Dear friends and colleagues, and dear organisers of the 8th ICCPR conference. Thank you very much for inviting me to give some concluding remarks at the end of this conference here in beautiful Hildesheim. I will in particular congratulate Professor Schneider and his team for their successful organisation of the conference.

15 years have passed since the first conference, which took place in Bergen, Norway, in 1999. Since then subsequent ICCPR conferences have been organised more or less every second year around in world: In Wellington, New Zealand, in 2002; in Montreal, Canada, in 2004; in Vienna, Austria, in 2006; in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2008; in Jyväskylä, Finland, in 2010; in Barcelona, Spain, in 2012 – and finally here in Hildesheim, Germany, in 2014. From a modest start, with only 140 researchers from 17 countries, and 60 papers presented, in Bergen 1999, the number of researchers and papers from all continents has expanded gradually. Two years ago, in Barcelona, about 300 researchers from 44 countries attended the conference. If I am not mistaken, around 465 participants from more than 60 countries have participated at this conference here in Hildesheim. Since 1999 in Bergen the quality of the papers and discussions has also improved considerably.

The idea

My Danish colleague, Dorte Skot Hansen, and I got the idea to create a new biennial conference about cultural policy research, when we walked around – somewhat frustrated – in the streets of San Francisco during an AIMAC conference in 1997. I – a down-to-earth and pragmatic Norwegian – continuously looked down at the pavement, while Dorte – who is an optimistic and light-spirited Danish girl – instead looked up on the sky. But we both agreed that it was a need for a new, academic, autonomous and better organised international conference on cultural policy research. Today I could pretend to be very humble and say that the following development and success of the ICCPR conferences very much has exceeded our expectations. But I will not. On the contrary, the development and success of this conference as the leading international meeting place for cultural policy researchers, is very much what we expected and hoped to accomplish already when the idea was conceived in 1997.

History

The conference had a series of minor forerunners in Norway in the 1990s. From 1992 to 1999 we tried out the concept of such a conference – with keynotes, paper presentations and prepared discussants – in a Norwegian, and subsequently a Nordic, context. The Research Council, Norway, sponsored these annual events. The Research Council also sponsored the first international conference, at the University of Bergen, Norway, in the autumn 1999. This first ICCPR conference was the result of a research application to the Norwegian Research Council. During the preparation process we managed to establish a Scientific Committee of experienced international cultural policy researchers. It was of crucial importance for the success of the initiative – and the composition of the Scientific Committee – that the International Journal of Cultural Policy – and its editor Oliver Bennett – was interested in cooperating to establish such a conference.

The first ICCPR conference in Bergen 1999 was a nice and well-organized event, but not very big or spectacular. The conference could have remained just a regional event primarily for Nordic and British researchers. But when Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and Professor Michael Volkerling, assumed the responsibility of organising the 2nd ICCPR conference – in Wellington in January 2002 – we took the first decisive step towards a really international conference. Almost 200 researchers participated in Wellington. More than 100 papers were presented. The ambition of becoming international – not just European – was further confirmed by the next conference, in Montreal, in 2004. It was Francois Colbert, a central personality in the international arts administration network, who was in charge of the local organisation of the conference. The number of participants and papers was a little more limited than in Wellington.

It was decided already from the start in Bergen that the ICCPR conferences should use English as their common “lingua franca”. Personally, I argued a little bit in favour of both English and French, but I was wrong and fortunately I lost that battle. But this Anglophone bias of the conferences may have contributed to limit the participation from some regions, for instance from German speaking and Latin countries. The 4th conference – and the biggest ICCPR conference until then – was still organised in a German speaking country, Austria, in Vienna in 2006. Michael Wimmer and Educult were the local organisers. The subsequent conference – the ICCPR 2008 – took place at the frontier between Europe and Asia, in Istanbul, with Aysegül Guchan and Yeditepe University as local organisers. A very memorable and successful conference! In 2010 we planned to organise the ICCPR conference in Canberra, Australia. But the financial crises struck the local organiser; so we had to start a rescue operation. Fortunately our Finnish friends saved us. Anita Kangas and the University of Jyväskylä organised a very nice and competent ICCPR conference in Jyväskylä in 2010. The University of Barcelona and Arturo Murato were in charge of the 7th ICCPR conference, in Barcelona in July 2012. This was an opportunity to recruit more researchers from Latin countries, among them from South America. It was also an opportunity to establish closer relations with international sociology of culture networks, where Arturo is a prominent member. The location of the 8th ICCPR conference to Hildesheim has certainly contributed to recruit more researchers from German speaking countries, hopefully also from Eastern Europe, a region that has been somewhat poorly represented at earlier conferences. But a more remarkable aspect of this 8th ICCPR here in Hildesheim is the considerable participation from Middle East and African countries. This has brought new and valuable perspectives and inspirations into our research community.

The organisation of the conference

The organisational structure of the ICCPR may seem a bit strange. It is a self-appointed Scientific Committee that is in charge of the selection of organisers, the principles of the event and the continuity of the conference. The Scientific Committee also interferes actively into the selection of papers and the organisation of the conference. The Scientific Committee has no specific financial basis of its own; all costs of organising the conference are imposed upon the local organiser. Thus this self-appointed Scientific Committee primarily possesses symbolic power, but no economic or political power. Its legitimacy rests upon its ability to contribute to the organisation of good conferences – and upon its relation to the International Journal of Cultural Policy. It has been a challenge for the Scientific Committee to find a good procedure for recruiting new members and getting rid of old members like me. I think they have found a quite good procedure for this now. All in all the organisation of the ICCPR is not at all democratic, rather autocratic. But I think this way of organising the conferences has proved to be viable.

The close cooperation with the International Journal of Cultural Policy has – without any doubt – been crucial for the academic level and the good development of the conference. After the first conferences special conference-issues of the Journal were published. Later on the Journal has lightened this close link with the conference and just encouraged presenters to submit promising papers to the Journal. All papers submitted have subsequently been exposed

to normal editorial evaluation by referees. Many papers have then, after discussions and improvements, been published as articles in the Journal.

During all these 15 years it has been a primary concern for ICCPR to safeguard the autonomy of the conference. Several external institutions – public and private – have approached the Scientific Committee and asked for space and time to market their interests and perspectives. The Scientific Committee has usually been quite sceptical to such approaches. It has refused to become “a useful hired gun” for this or that interest group or public institution. The Scientific Committee has also always been a bit sceptical to consultancy firms and applied research institutions with very close ties to public authorities or strong dependence on the market.

Good, even meticulous, organisation of the conferences has also been a primary concern of the Scientific Committee from the start. What frustrated me and Dorte most from the beginning was the bad experiences we had from several international conferences, where the delegates met without having had access to the papers beforehand, where there were no prepared discussants – and where some delegates could speak nonsense for hours without being stopped. Good and careful preparation before the conferences should be a cure against such risks. We have all experienced how this conference here in Hildesheim has benefited from such good planning and careful organisation.

Experiences and contribution

The ICCPR conferences have been able to survive – even flourish – for 15 years. But has it really been worth the efforts? It is certainly nice to travel, to meet friends and to visit new countries and cities at conferences. But have there been any beneficial effects in addition to this? Let me point at some experiences and contributions that may be attributed to the ICCPR:

1) First: I think it is fair to say that the ICCPR – together with the International Journal of Cultural Policy – has contributed to create an international research community in this research field.

2) Second: I also think it is fair to say that the conference has contributed to a kind of ‘academic turn’ of cultural policy research. In the 1970s, 80s and early 90s many attempts to develop cultural policy research were initiated by public authorities, both at national and international levels. UNESCO published several more or less research based reports on cultural policy; the Council of Europe initiated its great program of national cultural policy evaluations; – and research and evaluation units were established in Ministries of Culture or Arts Councils in many countries. So far, so good. But the ties between research, policy and bureaucracy often became too close; the academic autonomy and analytical criticism too weak. So there was an obvious need for an academic turn, i.e. for creating a more autonomous space for cultural policy research. The establishment of the International Journal of Cultural Policy in 1994 (before 1997, named “the European Journal of Cultural Policy) was a crucial step in that direction; the initiation of the ICCPR from 1999 and onwards was another important step.

3) Third: I also think it is fair to say that ICCPR has contributed to create a rather open, pluridisciplinary and generous space for academic research, i.e. it has been open for quite different disciplinary and methodological traditions and approaches. During the conferences we have seen papers from historians, sociologists, literary scholars, social anthropologists, economists, political scientists, media analysts and many others. And of course both qualitative and quantitative methods have been used. Some colleagues present empirically based research, others more theoretical papers. This multitude of disciplinary, theoretical and methodological approaches also implies that there is no – and should not be – any ambition in this field of research to create a new kind of uniform academic discipline, more or less like “cultural studies” or “media studies”.

4) Fourth: I also think that the ICCPR conferences have opened a space for comparative curiosity and research. The conference has become an arena where we have learned about cultural policy structures, instruments and ideologies in different countries and regions. Comparative approaches often prove to be fruitful, at least in the social sciences.

5) Fifth: I finally think it has been important that the Scientific Committee has not tried to impose a very specific and narrow definition of the research field. This has contributed to fruitful discussions about the content and delimitation of cultural policy research. Jeremy Ahearne’s distinction between “explicit” and “implicit” cultural policy is an interesting result of these discussions.

Challenges

Because I am now more or less leaving the forefront of this research field for retirement, I feel free to point at some potential future challenges for the ICCPR – and especially for the Scientific Committee:

1) First: It is certainly a challenge to keep up and improve the international character of the ICCPR. The Scientific Committee has included new members from Canada and Brazil lately, in addition to its former British, Austrian, Japanese, Swedish, Norwegian, Turkish and Australian members. But it is of course also a future challenge to recruit more researchers to the conferences from Africa, Asia and South-America – and also from Italy, France and Eastern Europe. At this conference we have particularly noticed a lot of promising new recruits from Middle East and African countries. I am looking forward to hear that future conferences will take place in Asia, Africa or South-America – even if I myself probably will not be there.

2) A second challenge is certainly to get good candidates – preferably local universities – who are willing and able to organise the conference. Until now there have been relatively few bids to each conference. Each local organiser has had to assume a substantial organisational and financial responsibility. It is not surprising that the number of bidders has been limited. Several professional international conference organisers have, however, approached the Scientific Committee in order to take over the practical organisation of the conference. Until now the Scientific Committee has refused these propositions, because they know that both the autonomy and the costs of the conference would then be at stake. I hope that the Scientific Committee will continue this policy.

3) A third challenge for the ICCPR has to do with the relation between advocacy and research. Many of those in the cultural sector who ask for our research do this because they wish good arguments for the positive values and effects of culture. But we often have to disappoint them. Research results are often insecure or point in “wrong” directions. This is a permanent challenge for our research field. But it is also my impression that cultural policy research has now become sufficiently mature to be able to cope with this dilemma in fruitful ways. I think that the discussion we had previously this morning is a good proof.

4) A fourth challenge may be to open more doors to other – neighbouring – academic disciplines. It has been important – during the last 20 years – to develop a specific research community for cultural policy research. We have hopefully heightened the academic status of our research field; we have insisted that we have a specific body of academic knowledge that general sociology, social anthropology and history tend to ignore. But it may now have become too inclusive and too cosy within our friendly enclosure of cultural policy research. There may be neighbouring academic disciplines with longer academic traditions and more severe academic selection – for instance political science, general history or economics – that might stimulate our research, if we get into closer communication with them.

Acknowledgments

I will finish quite soon. But first I again have to thank Professor Schneider, Dr. Gad and their team for organising a wonderful conference here in Hildesheim. We – the participants from all around the world – have got a very warm and friendly welcome; experienced sessions and debates at high academic level; been taken care of by a helpful and efficient staff – and had the pleasure to experience a beautiful cultural program. The conference here in Hildesheim has certainly been the best ICCPR conference ever!

It is also time to congratulate the Scientific Committee with another – the eight – ICCPR conference and to wish it good luck with the organisation of future conferences. I know that the whole Scientific Committee does this work animated by pure idealism and dedication for this research field. There are no other substantial benefits from their work. During the last couple of years there has been a substantial renewal of the Scientific Committee. Several elderly members have left; new and younger blood has entered the committee. All members of the Scientific Committee, however, have done and are doing a considerable job. But it is still important to mention two members in particular. Oliver Bennett has – since the beginning – represented the link to the International Journal of Cultural Policy. At the same time he has always been a vigilant gatekeeper against every kind of non-academic abuse of the conference. And finally – and not least – Jenny Johannisson in 2011 took over the responsibility as chair of the Scientific Committee. That implies that she is the core personality for a good organisation and continuation of the ICCPR conferences. She has done – and will continue to do – an excellent job. Thanks to all of you for this.

Thank you again to the organisers, the Scientific Committee and to all participants! And of course welcome back to ICCPR 2016 in Seoul!