Decommodify Culture

We need to take it away from privileging the ‘professional’ or any elitist province, be that class or education.  We need to appreciate that culture is not the province of an elite or the ‘professional’ artist/writer/performer but something that can be enjoyed and experienced by everyone.  We need to stop ‘giving’ people culture and allow them to be creative in ways that they feel are important. Whether this is knitting or writing or art or something entirely different, we ‘are’ our culture and the relationship between culture and identity is a vital one.

We may need to teach people how to understand their relationship with culture. (We may all need to learn new relationships with our culture!)  We certainly need to recognise that top down culture is an imposition.  Our approach should be more organic, grassroots. It  should be an enabling, facilitating role offering opportunities for exploration; ‘ex duco’ (drawing out) by giving space and time (and if necessary money) to encourage people to become culturally active – both in terms of awareness and personal opportunities for creative engagement.

Money needs to go into a broadening of cultural opportunity, not into preserving ‘jobs for the boys’ or supporting a cultural elite.  But money is not the core of culture. Putting too much significance on this relationship means that culture is ‘capitalised’ and ultimately commodified and this is deleterious to the very fundamental suggestion that culture is a vital part of who we are.

There are many people who commit a lot of unpaid time to creating culture which is more popular (or might be) than those who are paid to create culture which is then imposed on others and may not of itself represent a broad cultural desire.  It’s not as simple as taking the money away from the rich to pay the poor, or from one elite to create another (or even to broaden the elite into mainstream).  Money is needed of course, but it should not be used as a mark of quality or success.

We need to learn how to encourage folk to a) recognise, b) embrace and c) express their own culture – whether we ‘agree’ with them or not.  We need to flatten the structures – We need to lose the notions of ‘best’ or ‘quality’, as delivered by those with power but with partial knowledge of what  the ‘others’ feel is valuable either personally or in a community context.

We need to be open-minded, forward looking but with an appreciation both of the past and of the diversity of our cultural experiences.  We need, most of all to be inclusive. Truly inclusive.  We need to lose the sneer and the cringe and the ‘not as good as us’ mentality when we do not understand diversity. We need to accept that different communities within our country have different cultural interests, needs and experiences.  Rural and urban are different, for example.  It’s not about creating divides it’s about recognising and championing diversity.

We need to free people to explore their own cultural identity and express themselves in whatever ways they want.  Perhaps this involves money changing hands in some way but centrally we need to decommodify culture. 

And beyond that, those in ‘charge’ of culture need to realise they are not the arbiters of our national culture. Culture is a vital part of identity, both individual and national.  We need to be given the opportunity to reclaim it – for value not to be commercial or ‘quality’ driven but to be driven by the identities and creative desires of all. 


Why the contribution is important

It’s great to start a debate about culture. But for the debate to be truly inclusive requires more than the ‘usual suspects’ scratching their heads about it, or even letting us ‘tweet’ around the table. They need not just to ‘get down with the kids’  and not just to allow us all to ‘join the party’, but to acknowledge that we can (and in many cases are doing so) create our own parties – and then recognise them and (dare I say it) engage and ‘learn’ from our experience too.  Seek and find the ‘wee voice’ would be my suggestion.  Don’t expect us to engage by coming cap in hand for funding,  jumping through hoops and filling in boxes; reach out to us with real opportunities that match real need for real people. 

There’s a lot of ‘wee voice’ culture going on in Scotland – much culture is local in both vision and interest – but much could embrace a larger stage if it was given equal recognition in the ‘value’ schemes.  For the ‘butterfly wings’ to flutter, we need the skies to be wide and open to all and we ALL need to learn to see beauty beyond the end of our noses or present cultural ‘rules’ and experience.

It’s great that I’ve had my chance to have my say, to ‘voice’ my opinion. The proof of the pudding will come if anyone listens to what I have to say. Even more if anything changes because of it. It's not enough to listen.  Listen AND learn (and be prepared to keep learning not just teaching)  I wonder whether 21st century Scotland is really preparing to be inclusive and culturally open to all, or is our culture a tower of Babel, with an exclusive access to those with the right password.  Time (and money) will tell. 

by CallyWight on August 31, 2017 at 10:42AM

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  • Posted by Grum October 13, 2017 at 10:14

    Well said. The state should provide the tools (in terms of education, materials, places to go and do and be inspired by things, providing a millieu that encourages cultural endeavour) and then step back and let the people get on with it.
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