Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization

Chapter 1 | Fernand Harvey


Another definition of culture refers to arts and letters. This was the definition used by the Massey-Lévesque Commission in its 1951 Report (Canada, 1951). For a long time literary and artistic practices were considered the domain of cultured elites or the bourgeoisie. But since the 1960s, cultural policies put forward by several states, including France, Canada and Québec, have favoured a democratic approach to culture, supported by vast programmes of infrastructure development such as museums, libraries and interpretive and cultural centres. Other factors of an economic or social nature have also favoured access to culture, such as the advent of mass consumption, the rise in years of schooling, and the professionalization of cultural trades. Along with the multiplication of the number of creators in arts and literature during the second half of the twentieth century, several surveys have demonstrated that the constellation of cultural consumption was widening (Donnat, 1994; Baillargeon, Ed., 1986; Québec, 1997). This concomitant evolution of creators and public, fostered by the cultural policies of various governments, have encouraged the consolidation of that side of culture referred to by some as institutional.

A third facet of culture is mass culture, born out of industrialization; it gave birth to a widely circulated press, popular books and magazines, cinema, a record industry, and radio and television. As suggested by its name, mass culture was meant from the outset to reach as many people as possible, [but opposite to popular culture coming from tradition and investigated by anthropologists, to be profit-earning, at least in liberal democracies,1 even if tied with other objectives, like promoting cultural expression of individuals or asserting community or national identities, with the help of communication policies of States. As suggested by its name, mass culture was meant from the outset to reach as many people as possible. But unlike culture linked with tradition, even state-mandated mass culture that promotes individual expression, community or national identity must turn a profit, at least in liberal democracies. It is well known that Canada has a long tradition of intervention and control in a specific sector of mass culture: that of telecommunications.

2. the emergence of a new economic and technological context

Technological and economic changes since the 1990s have deeply upset the dynamics of the three types of culture mentioned above; this happened in such a way that they are more intermingled than ever. Generally speaking, culture has become a sort of locomotive of the new economy, which puts the emphasis on knowledge and creativity. Not only have new jobs in the cultural sector in Canada have increased more rapidly than the overall creation of jobs (Luffman, 2000), but there are new sectors, which were not regarded until recently as part of arts and letters and are now taken into account, sectors such as clothing, gastronomy, leisure, tourism, etc.

This widening of the cultural economy is directly linked to the question of cultural industries, a subject much discussed since the end of the 1970s, although this term was first used by the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno of the Frankfurt School in 1947 (Warnier, 1999; Lachance et al., 1984). From that point of view, culture has become a commodity to be marketed. Initially restricted to mass culture, this economic approach to culture as having the market in mind has been stretched to include institutional culture. “Only if one is triumphant in the market place can one have access to cultural glory,” writes French journalist Ignacio Ramonet, who sees in that a radically new phenomenon (quoted in Brunet, 2001). The success of stars of song and screen is measured primarily in terms of income generated for the industry rather than from the intrinsic quality of the content. This phenomenon is spreading through all the cultural domains. As a result, we find a three-tiered structure of distribution of cultural production: a so-called international production imbued with strategies brought into play by the American multinationals, and taken over by big European or Japanese consortiums; a national production, financially supported by the cultural policies of the state and by national media, even though there may only be a very small audience outside a country’s borders – national feature films, for example; and, finally, regional cultural production, which does not succeed in catching the attention of the national media and cultural institutions of large metropolitan areas, but which endow with life local and regional communities, and are often used as a stepping stone for future national or international stars.

The marketing of culture has also an impact on cultural aspects of identity. Several cultural events coming out of tradition are taken over for leisure or tourism purposes. As an example, the record industry offers us collections of folkloric music from Africa, Latin America and Asia; Europeans can devote themselves to traditional activities in First Nations reserves of Canada; the historic heritage of ancient Egypt or of Florence is sold as a cultural product by tourist agencies. The rules of the liberal economy are invading culture at all levels. And, it is not because a cultural production is national rather than international that it makes it more “noble,” or that it tends to escape the profit earning logic.

Chapter 1, continued >


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