Territorial implications of cultural democratization

by Pierre Moulinier, correspondent for the Comité d’histoire, Ministère de la culture et de la communication

Pierre Moulinier begins his presentation by defining the terminological differences between cultural democratization and cultural democracy. Moulinier, who has conducted research for the French Ministry of Culture, attributes the distinction between these two key concepts to different understandings of the term “culture”. Cultural democratization is generally associated to a normative definition of culture: legitimate culture that can be made accessible to a larger number of French citizens. Cultural democracy exhibits an anthropological understanding of culture: culture is constituted of multifarious genres and origins; all culture is legitimate culture. These values are transmitted through public education. Cultural democracy is making democracy through culture; cultural democratization is making culture available to the demos.

From this distinction arise ideological differences to approaching cultural policy, namely embodied by the cultural/sociocultural dialectic. Policy associated with cultural democratization is said to be that dictated by the political elite in order to establish a more equal distribution of culture in France. Cultural democracy policy stems more from regional public authorities, in a bottom-up approach. Such an agenda is not only focused on developing cultural equality, but also in fostering social and economic justice. However, both ideological currents share hope in arts education and cultural mediation.

Thus, cultural democracy advocates criticize cultural democratization for embodying a policy made for and by the elite, as it favors “legitimate culture”; this is a more extreme attitude exemplified regarding cultural democratization. These advocates claim that all art elicits an aesthetic shock, no matter its origin. Moulinier further contends that two other positions are adopted in France: one that does not entirely reject cultural democratization but defends the autonomy of the creator to the detriment of cultural mediation; the other focuses on promoting cultural democracy through the encounter of various cultures.

Through this preliminary discussion, Moulinier is able to study the multifaceted nature of cultural democratization, so as to better understand how its practices differ from those of cultural democracy. To begin, Moulinier analyzes how the budget allotted to cultural democratization is distributed. According to the DEPS (Département des etudes de la prospective et des statistiques) in 2006, cities with more than 10 000 inhabitants devote 18% of their budget to cultural endeavors. However, of that 18%, 81% is spent on operating costs and 6 % on interdisciplinary cultural activities. Hence, Moulinier wonders to what extent cultural democratization tackled by regional public authorities is effective, given such inequalities in budgetary distribution.

The researcher then examines to what extent cultural democratization takes into account the jarring socio-economic divides in France. Cultural policy on a city scale remains biased, excluding gentrified and heavily immigrant neighborhoods from metropolitan cultural practices. The financial crisis only exacerbates these divides. Consequentially, as capitals trend toward becoming “cultural cities”, stark contrasts are drawn between innovative neighborhoods and areas lacking in art and creativity initiatives. Thus, upon examining French territories, Moulinier concludes that some regions are of cultural excellence, while other remain by the wayside, not benefiting from equal funding and policy. Cultural democratization is currently in a state of struggle.

Moulinier studies the effects of cultural democratization on five different geo-political levels. Firstly, he begins by examining the effects of globalization on cultural practices. Moulinier does not entirely upbraid the diffusion of cultural activities via digital platforms. On the contrary, he argues that Internet might even facilitate cultural democratization and the equal access to and participation in cultural activities. Moulinier then shifts to the role of the French State in these initiatives, as historically speaking, the government has been at the heart of implemented cultural policies. The centralized State also encourages decentralization efforts so as to compensate for regional inequalities. Hence, cultural democratization and decentralization endeavors are intimately related and facilitated by the State.

Indeed, as Moulinier considers the impact of the third geo-political level, that of local governments on cultural democratization, he notes that French regions have greatly benefited from the autonomy granted by the decentralization laws of 1982-1983 and 2004. Rural areas (the fourth level) in particular have become more culturally included, though cultural democratization efforts are best implemented via the public education system rather than through local cultural policy. Finally, Moulinier takes examines these initiatives on the city level. The city-center remains wealthiest in cultural capital, leaving suburbs literally on the outskirts of such activities. Furthermore, the city embodies various interpretations of cultural practice: from its most legitimized art form (cultural institutions) to marginalized expressions of creativity (artist squats). Moulinier emphasizes that the cultural democratization led by a city remains the most fulfilled embodiment of cultural policy.

Hence, with a better understanding of cultural democratization and its specificities – namely, its differences with cultural democracy, and its territorial implementations – Moulinier contends that it is easier to measure the impact of such initiatives. To immediately claim the failure of cultural democratization without further examining cultural democracy efforts is to undermine the correlation between these two fundamental movements, working side by side.

[Read the full paper in french]


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