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The Cascading Metrologies of Swedish Cultural Policy

Associate Professor at the School of Arts and Communication, Malmö University. His research interests include aesthetics and modernity, art and technology, biopolitics, artistic practices and urban governance. Currently, he is doing research with Asko Kauppinen on the connections between Art and Governmentalization: artgov.mah.se.

PhD and Associate Professor at the School of Arts and Communication, Faculty of Culture and Society, Malmö University. His research interests include cultural policy, aesthetics and biopolitics, artistic practices and urban governance. Currently, he is doing research with Berndt Clavier on the connections between Art and Governmentalization: artgov.mah.se.

  • Side: 179-199
  • Publisert på Idunn: 2018-11-25
  • Publisert: 2018-11-25

The commencement of cultural policy in Sweden is analysed as part of global and networked socio-technical agencements, beginning with the transformation of the political rationalities underlying state support for theatre in the early nineteen-thirties and ending in the current moment, which is described as a phase of cascading metrologies. Using Actor Network Theory as a methodology, the article explores how cultural policy partakes in what Foucault has elaborated as the progressive governmentalization of power relations, whereby art and culture, in this case, is “elaborated, rationalized, and centralized in the form of, or under the auspices of, state institutions.” Specific attention is brought to the historical role of UNESCO in the governmentalization of art and culture, and its importance for the first Swedish bill of culture. The article also elaborates on the central role of metrologies in the process of governmentalization, whereby art and culture is subjected to measuring devices, and by extension, concepts and instruments that contribute to the progressive socialization and naturalization of novel art-effects, such as social and economic development.

Keywords: Art and culture, Swedish cultural policy, UNESCO, metrology, Actor-Network Theory, Governmentalization

Introduction: Metrology and Governmental Practice

In advanced liberal societies, the practice of government has undergone dramatic changes since WWII. In political theory, these changes are often comprehended as a series of departures from liberal conceptions of government, which have been bounded by distinctions between the private and the public, the state and civil society, and an almost blind faith in rational administration and scientific policy (Rosanvallon 2011). One important departure, initiated by Michel Foucault, is governmentality studies, where the classical language of political theory has been shifted towards notions such as “pastoral power” and “biopolitics.” These concepts are umbrella terms for a whole range of practices, some of which are transformations on the level of what Ian Hacking calls “historical ontology,” whereas others are much more humble and mundane techniques operating on the level of everyday management (Hacking 2002). The most important aspect of these techniques, we argue, is what Foucault named “practices of veridiction” (Foucault 2008). By “veridiction,” Foucault means those references that allow the practices of government to be established as true.

For the kind of modern government we are investigating, truth has been brokered by the sciences (both social and natural) at least since the middle of the nineteenth century (see Desrosières 1998; Porter 1986). However, in most governmental practices, “veridiction” does not come in the form of pure science, but in the form of standardised ways of accounting for reality. These standards of accounting often produce unnoticed consequences.

The first and perhaps most important of these consequences is the increased centrality of the state. As Foucault argues, the emphasis on veridiction is also an intensification of the process whereby “power relations have been progressively governmentalized, that is to say, elaborated, rationalized, and centralized in the form of, or under the auspices of, state institutions” (Foucault 1982: 793). Another important consequence is the technologisation of political instruments. Perhaps the most important of these rationalizing technologies is the growing reliance on numerical representation and quantitative knowledge in the state apparatus. As Alain Desrosières:

quantification offers a specific language to enable the transfers, comparisons, aggregations and manipulations standardized by calculations, and routine interpretations [...]. It makes “objects that hold together” available to social actors or researchers, because they are robust (resistant to criticism), standardized (and therefore interchangeable), and can “hold people together” by constraining them to a standard set of linguistic terms. (2015: 334)

The “language” Desrosières has in mind are the scientifically derived standards, often referred to as metrologies or indicators, which today are ubiquitous at all levels of government. Richard Rottenburg and Sally Engle Merry argue that these standards are “seen as essential for developing reasonable policy at local, national and international levels” because they are assumed to be “more objective and less prone to misuse, but also more transparent, more democratic, and more open to public debate than decisions taken by politicians and business leaders with reference to qualitative forms of knowing” (Rottenburg & Merry 2015: 2).

In this paper, we analyse the genealogy of metrologies that have exerted influence on Swedish cultural policy. We understand these metrologies as exercising agency. Thus, rather than seeing policy as the rational development of specific solutions to specific problems, often in the context of nation state administration, our ambition is to map the distributed agency of the metrologies in this process, which from the beginning have crossed state borders. By focusing on this very technical and globalizing aspect, our analysis offers an additional perspective to the leading voices of Swedish cultural policy research (Frenander 2014, Harding 2007, Jacobsson 2014). In particular, we are picking up on the work of Klockar-Linder on quantification as one of the ways in which science and politics are brought together to produce what we today call cultural policy (2014: 84-92).

To map these distributed agencies, we use Actor-Network Theory (ANT). ANT assumes that the agents of the social world are innumerable and consist of both human and non-human actors. One of the difficulties of social science, therefore, is to understand what makes us act, given that the agencies involved are both incalculable and rooted in things and technologies that in traditional sociology do not exert agency. Latour’s solution to this problem recalls Foucault’s insistence on “concrete practices” over “universals” (Foucault 2008: 3), namely to look beyond and below the social aggregate (even if that aggregate is the state), and to focus instead on what Latour calls “matters of concern” or “controversies.” Latour’s idea is that agencies become visible in the controversies, simply because they must be seen to have influence. Thus, Latour argues, “when agencies are introduced” as part of an ANT analysis “they are never presented simply as matters of fact but always as matters of concern, with their mode of fabrication and their stabilizing mechanisms clearly visible” (2005: 120).

In their mundane and humble acts of counting (e.g. the number of visitors in a museum), metrologies are part of “proliferating technologies of quantification [that] alter modes of knowing in intricate ways that mostly go unobserved,” turning even the most innocent of measurements into a “black box” (Rottenburg & Merry 2015: 2). This is the incidental aspect of the metrologies: they are part of technical systems whose sheer complexity is, as Frank Pasquale argues, “as effective at defeating understanding as real or legal secrecy” (2015: 8). The promise of transparent and democratic government evinced in the use of metrologies may therefore turn into its opposite. Another supplementary aspect of the metrologies is that they also produce a “practical” or “empirical metaphysics”; that is, they “populate the world with new drives and […] contest the existence of others” (Latour 2005: 51).

This development of new drives and contestation is intimately connected to what Peter Miller and Nikolas Rose understand as the fundamental form of modern government, namely, the problematizing activity that government is centred around: “The ideals of government are intrinsically linked to the problems around which it circulates, the failings it seeks to rectify, the ills it seeks to cure (Miller & Rose 2008: 61). Metrologies are thus directly connected to the problematizing activity of government: only things that are constructed as problems are measured and counted. Rottenburg and Merry recognise the same fundamental feature of problematisation, but stress the “black-boxed” quality of the quantification:

What becomes quantified is often the product of what seems to be a problem. The very act of numeric representation encodes particular concerns and puts constraints on the kinds of information that are available. While certain problems and hidden connections are made visible through refined modes of quantification, others remain hidden or even become invisibilized. (2015: 12)

How did metrologies enter the field of cultural policy? What forms did they take? How have they transformed? What can they tell us about the rationalities underpinning cultural policy? Our case is Sweden, but the process of rationalization described is a much broader concern and a principal aspect of government in all advanced liberal societies. The emphasis on Sweden, therefore, should not be understood as a case of “methodological nationalism” (Wimmer & Glick Schiller 2002: 302 ff.; Harding 2017: 10), but as a way for us to delimit ourselves empirically.

Emerging Cultural Policy and Metrology

In Sweden, art and culture became an object of governmentalization in the 1930s. In parliament the issue of theatre as a vehicle of popular adult education (folkbildning) had been broached already in 1913 (Loos 1933: 12).1 The ensuing debate, however, made it clear that theatre should continue to be in the hands of “private initiatives,” and the idea of theatre as an instrument of popular adult education was “completely rejected” (Loos 1933: 13).2 When theatre ten years later once more became an object of state attention, the focus was limited to the economic situation and artistic activities of the Royal Theatres (SOU 1924:31).

The government’s attitude changed with two reports from 1934, one which assessed the situation of the state supported theatres (SOU 1934:3), and one which reported about the situation of the theatres in Sweden as a whole (SOU 1934:21). In the reports there is no mincing of words; the theatres are described as suffering from a “wasting disease” and the situation is depicted as a “complete catastrophe” (SOU 1934:21: 12). What spawned these pronouncements were the newly instituted, still incomplete and erratically archived attendance statistics that the cities and municipalities had started to collect. They showed deeply declining audience numbers for the years 1928–1933, which, according to the report, were brought about by the spread of competing entertainment activities, such as film and radio, and the burgeoning interest in sports and outdoor activities (SOU 1934:21: 13–14). The report bases its figures on the unsatisfactory audience statistics derived from municipal and city administrations, detailed audits of the two royal theatres in Stockholm, economic overviews of the four provincial theatres, and the research conducted by Viggo Loos. Loos is possibly the first in Sweden to elevate the question of state funded artistic activity into a question of the state’s responsibility for art and culture. Art, and especially theatre, Loos argues, is not the place where one may adopt a “Manchester-liberal point of view,” because it is a “popular educator” and a “cultural presence” in the service of the nation (1933: 16–17). Ultimately, Loos argues, what is at stake is the democratic development of the nation (1933: 16–17).

The theatre reports from 1934 are thus, we argue, fundamentally different from the committees and reports that came before them by producing “new drives” in cultural policy which, in turn, amount to a shift in the “empirical metaphysics” justifying support for the arts. What had changed was the political rationality underpinning the government’s action: art is no longer seen as only a private initiative. Instead a “moral form” has developed that sees support for the arts (here exemplified by theatre) as the democratic duty of the state (cf. Miller & Rose 2008: 58–59 on political rationalities and their “moral form,” “epistemological character” and “idiom”). This political rationality is articulated clearly by Loos when he—quoting the German journalist cum theatre curator, Siegfried Nestriepke—argues that

the rationalization of the theatre is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to serve the sound, living theatre. However, as things stand in most countries, this cannot happen without rationalization. The theatre of today has, by virtue of its technical and artistic accomplishments, reached enormous capabilities. But in unfortunate contrast to this is a lack of response in the audience. [...] Rationalization is not enough—but it may contribute to what we are seeking, the genuine peoples’ and culture theatre. (1933: 100–101)

In the 1934 reports, there is an interesting new problematic, which the writers only partially succeed in hiding through their use of metrology; namely, that there is an unaccounted for increase of newly developed “summer stages,” which in the report warrants a brief note, but for which there is no statistical evidence. The report resorts to a (rather confusing) metaphorical description of the relationship between quality theatre and summer theatre: “these new offshoots on the tree of theatre have only been able to grow because of the fading but still living trunk. The summer theatre can therefore never take over the tasks of the winter theatre or even exist independently of it” (SOU 1934:21: 11–12). The difficulty straddled by the reports is to have the metrologies prove that theatre is both in decline and robust at the same time, and that the need for new audiences must not be achieved at the expense of what is perceived of as “high quality.” In this sense, the summer stages are “black-boxed” by the audience statistics.

Metrologies of Cultural Policy: 1934 to 1972

Between the reports on theatre in 1934, which lay the foundation for the first major governmental reforms of the arts in Sweden in the sense that they address art as a “problem” on the level of the population, and the bill of 1961 (Prop. 1961:56), which is the first legal reform in the policy field of culture which conforms to what Johannes Lindvall and Bo Rothstein call “the Swedish welfare model” (Lindvall and Rothstein 2006: 49), there are a number of governmental reports that problematize and provide solutions for different cultural concerns. These include reports on the regulation of libraries, copyright for literary and musical works, support for Swedish film production, the reorganization of Riksteatern, and the enhancement of aesthetic education [estetisk fostran] in the population, to mention some. All the reports have three things in common: they problematise an aspect of contemporary cultural life, they suggest solutions to remedy the ills that they have diagnosed, and they use metrologies to discover and communicate problems and solutions. While the metrologies in the 1930s are limited to budgets, audits and statistics based on measured or counted data which are plotted on nominal and ordinal scales (attendance, ticket sales, etc.), over time the reports become more advanced in their use of metrologies. The report on governmental support for film production in 1942, for instance, showcases much more detail in its statistics than the reports that came before it, and adds interval scales and ratio scales to its aggregations (SOU 1942:36). However, the metrologies are descriptive, and do not engage in inferential types of statistics, let alone the more advanced type of econometrics trying to predict futures.

The 1952 report on books features, for the first time in Swedish cultural policy, a cultural habits analysis using inferential statistics in the form of a Gallup survey on reading habits (SOU 1952: 23). While the survey introduces a wide range of variables and plots them statistically, the variables are not particularly anchored in hypothesis, leaving much of the research design that manipulates unprocessed data into structured data up to the readers’ construction of some sort of contemporary common sense. Also on the level of description the numerical entities are not always coherent, discrete categories. For instance, the variables of city and municipality types seem to come from some standardized language of measurement (Big cities, Other cities, D-municipalities, C-municipalities, B-municipalities, A-municipalities), whereas the same cannot be said of social classes (Better situated, Middle class, Workers).

When Sweden gets its first bill on culture (Prop. 1974:28), cultural policy has already been designated internationally as a state concern. Klockar Linder maps how this process happens in Sweden and argues that cultural policy, from the beginning, was instituted as a “transnational object of knowledge and an area of political intervention” (2014: 87). The metrologies reflect this: [1] through the wealth of the data presented; [2] by the comparisons made to rival policy fields; [3] by incorporating data developed in other policy fields; and [4] by referencing the policy work of international bodies leading the development of cultural metrologies, most notably UNESCO, the European Council, Nordiska Kulturkommissionen (NKK), and the OECD. The 1972 report on culture, on which the 1974 bill is based, gives a brief overview of the international efforts made to unify and develop governmental policy for art and culture, and argues that UNESCO took the lead in this work in the late 1960s (SOU 1972:66: 104–117). These initiatives resulted in a summit (Monaco, 1967), a publication based on the conference proceedings (Cultural Policy: A Preliminary Study, 1969), and the first UNESCO resolution (1970) which addresses cultural policy as a specific and independent policy area. We argue that this UNESCO work on cultural policy contains a fundamental change in how to think of cultural policy, a change that is intimately connected to metrologies developed in UNESCO, and constitutes the newness of the 1974 bill on culture in Sweden. It is also the second transformation of the “empirical metaphysics” underpinning cultural policy, initiating what we effectively recognize as cultural policy today.

The UNESCO Project 3.321

Cultural Policy: A Preliminary Study gives a concise definition of what cultural policy ought to be, and the general direction of the metrologies that need to be developed to achieve its goals. Not only do we find the idea that cultural policy explicitly aims to meet “certain cultural needs through the optimum utilization of all the physical and human resources available to [a] society at a given time,” but also the notion that “certain criteria for cultural development should be defined, and that culture should be linked to the fulfilment of personality and to economic and social development” (UNESCO 1969: 10, our emphases). In the work that follows, the notions of “optimum utilization,” “physical and human resources,” and “economic and social development” become the chosen targets of the metrologies, leaving the measurement of the “fulfilment of personality” aside. The UNESCO resolution of 1970, section 3.321, importantly, authorizes the Director-General “to assemble the necessary data in regard to [the] promotion of cultural policy” including “methods of planning and legislation” and “cultural infrastructure and statistics,” the “integration of culture in the economic and social life of nations” and the “financial implications of cultural policy on national budgets.” The resolution also suggests that “these tasks of projection, research and information” should be organized and administered “through a clearing-house to assemble, publish and circulate documentation useful to Member States in intensifying their cultural development.” The resolution also sets a time frame for the development of this supranational standardisation of cultural policy by setting up dates for “regional conferences”: the European Members States are to convene in 1972, the Asian states in 1973 and the African states in 1975, after which there were to be a second international summit.

Between 1969 and 1987, at least seventy-seven reports are written in the UNESCO-series “Studies and documents on cultural policies.” These reports cover the ways in which specific countries understand the ideas of optimum utilization in the realm of culture, how they perceive their resources, and how they count culture and measure the efficacy of cultural policy. What becomes clear from reading these reports is the tremendous effort towards quantitative measurement that now is being mobilized. The Proceedings set the tone by directly recommending the work on cultural policy to be oriented by “[t]he term cultural budget,” which is defined as “the proportion of government expenditure devoted to cultural action”:

Emphasis should be laid on this concept, because in most countries, owing to the dispersion of the administrative structures of cultural action, such expenditure is seldom collated. This regrouping is of great importance since expenditure is one of the indicators making it possible to assess how much effort is being made by the public authorities on behalf of culture in comparison with other sectors. This indicator has no absolute value and admittedly does not in any way reflect the specific quality of cultural action, which cannot be assessed in figures; but it avoids a flood of empty rhetoric, so often released by cultural matters. (UNESCO 1969: 44)

Two things stand out in this formulation: firstly, government expenditure on culture becomes an indicator of policy engagement. This shifts the principal problem of cultural policy from supporting artistic activity to the problem of managing state expenditure on culture, what in the Proceedings is described as the “suitable machinery, [the] systematic methods for evaluating needs” (UNESCO 1969: 13). The development of the policy objective towards “the administrative structures of cultural action” makes not only international comparisons possible, but also measures “the cultural budget” against the budgets of other policy areas, which means that a case can be made nationally for increasing funding for “the cultural budget.” This shift of focus also shows how the role of the state becomes more central.

For UNESCO, this shift is a substantial deviation from its original mandate, which in the previous resolution from 1966 was directed towards supporting artistic creation, dissemination, art education, and the preservation and presentation of cultural property, monuments and sites (UNESCO 1967). The rationalities and technologies proposed in the Proceedings—understanding culture in terms of optimum utilization, understanding cultural development through methods of measurement, the idea of art and culture as a local, regional, national and international infrastructure, etc.—are therefore also new to UNESCO. As Gabriela Toledo Silva observes in her study of “the letters, notes, memos, reports, tables and contracts” relating to what she refers to as the “3.321 Project,” namely the shift in UNESCO’s activities towards “the ‘new problems of cultural policy’,” UNESCO refocuses “cultural policy from a marginal position to finally entitle UNESCO’s [entire] endeavor” (Toledo Silva 2015: 10, emphasis in original). To underline the newness of this problematic, Toledo Silva even finds some confusion at the very moment the shift is to be instigated: as the invitations for the summit were to be sent out, Augustin Girard, then an independent consultant for UNESCO but later an important architect of European cultural policy (see the special edition on Girard and French cultural policy in this journal, especially Meland & Petersen 2010; Vestheim 2010), intervened with a letter to ADG/SHC Elmandjra, “ask[ing] whether the Round Table would be about the aid of artistic creation or cultural policies,” whereupon the official title of the meeting was promptly changed to Round Table on Cultural Policies in the Modern World (Toledo Silva 2015: 11).

Secondly, the development of “the cultural budget indicator” becomes a way of cutting the “flood of empty rhetoric” that plagues the cultural sector of government. In the conference proceedings, this is laid out under the heading of “Evaluation of cultural needs and development of long-term programmes” and can be read as the very raison d’être of cultural policy:

In working out a cultural policy it is necessary to evaluate needs and to know what exists to meet them. In most countries very little is known concerning either of these aspects: people do not even know what methods can be used to discover the facts of cultural activity and what are the needs of the public. Which members of the public are in fact reached? What is provided? By what types of institutions? With what equipment? With what staff? At what cost? In each sector (creation, dissemination, training, conservation), what are the activities and expenditure of the State, local communities, voluntary associations, individuals? Answering these questions means approaching cultural problems objectively. A philosophy of culture is not a sufficient basis for action; the facts that we are trying to change must be exactly known. These are the facts which will tell us who is benefiting from cultural action (which frequently reaches only the cultured), what proportion of the public is not in any way affected, and what impact the various means of action have. It is then realized how inadequate former practice is in regard to the new problems. It is more readily appreciated that a cultural policy cannot be confined to patronage, even on a larger scale than before. It becomes obvious that a cultural policy must be linked both with a policy for continuing education and a policy for decentralization and regional development. It falls into its proper place in the social and economic development of the nation. (UNESCO 1969:12, our emphasis)

The conference proceeding, the development of the clearing-house, and the resolution all promise a new type of cultural intervention from the side of the state; one that is based not on tradition, philosophy or values, but on metrologies and the world of objective facts made available by them. This cannot be stressed enough: what the work of UNESCO promises is not a definition of culture or a programme of the kinds of culture a state ought to promote, which repeatedly is argued to be impossible to define or measure; what is promoted, instead, is the way the state ought to work on culture, focusing on developing metrologies that can measure the intensities with which cultural policy realizes the optimum utilization of the physical and human resources available in each country, now understood as the measurement of cultural development. The novelty of cultural policy is the insistence on objectivity and the new forms of utility found for art and culture, a novelty which, as Toledo-Silva puts it, is “systematic and assume[s] a multitude of forms: from the organization of administrative structures, budgets and plans to the identification of cultural needs, facts, expenditures, indicators, statistics etc.” (2015: 13).

Tracing the Agencies and Metrologies of Project 3.321 in the Swedish 1972 Report on Culture

In Latour’s terms, UNESCO is a powerful “center of calculation” (1987: 253), producing knowledges (objectives, standards of measurements, strategies of collecting data, ways of compiling data, etc.), which the national level of cultural policy needs to translate and rework to fit into its own context. In the 1972 report, the guidelines laid down by UNESCO are translated and reworked to produce what Desrosières labelled “routine interpretations” which produce “objects that hold together” and which “can ‘hold people together’ by constraining them to a standard set of linguistic terms.” In this way, UNESCO provides a “figuration” or “morphology” for cultural policy in Sweden (Latour 2005: 53–54). We are not suggesting that the Swedish government simply adapts to a program conceived elsewhere: notice that UNESCO does not deliver a program that specifies a content for art and culture. However, UNESCO does suggest a way of operationalizing cultural policy, of producing a “suitable machinery,” which is able to re-orient the state apparatus in the field of art and culture.

To find the matters of concern in the “3.321 Project” documents of UNESCO is easy enough—they are stated repeatedly and are too many to list here. In the table below, we have limited ourselves to the ones already introduced above and added a few connected ones for clarification. Once the matters of concern or controversies have existence, Latour continues, they are provided with a specific figuration, a morphology or form, which acts as a stabilizer of the controversy—for instance, in the UNESCO documents, culture is repeatedly described as a social and economic resource. When this description takes hold, and finds itself in other documents and other contexts, like Swedish cultural policy, Latour would say that the “matter of concern” has been given a stabilizing figuration, a form that can travel without losing its general characteristics. This process of stabilization involves “a movement, a displacement, a transformation, a translation, an enrollment” from the global level to the local (Latour 2005: 64–65). In other words, the figuration is not simply relocated into the new context, but re-inscribed there. Such a relocation is evident in the Swedish governmental report and bill, not only because of the logical and semantic similarities of the proposed reforms but also quite literally, since the Monaco summit is frequently referred to as a point of authority (SOU 1972:66: 104, 106–107, 230, 377, 380).

Attributions made in the name of some figuration or metrology are not new in the context of Swedish cultural policy, as we have seen in our readings of previous governmental reports on culture. What is new this time, however, is the absence of a “philosophy of culture.” Such philosophy was disqualified in the conference proceedings as an “[in]sufficient basis for action.” In the 1972 report and in the 1974 bill, this change can be registered in the way the writers seek to distance themselves from what in earlier Swedish governmental reports on culture is a carefully framed philosophical ideal, namely the way in which the idea of aesthetic Bildung [estetisk fostran] is used to support reforms (for an extensive discussion of how the concept of estetisk fostran was used politically, see Harding 2015). In the broader context of public debate in Sweden, the ideal of aesthetic Bildung, introduced by Ellen Key in 1899, produced a reform-movement, working for an expansion of aesthetic sensibility in everyday life, specifically including women and the lower middle classes (Key, 2006; SOU 1999:129: 19). In the 1972 report, this notion only occurs four times (and only once in the 1974 bill), and then only to be explained away. Like the UNESCO documents, the report problematizes and disqualifies previous models of cultural policy, but moves beyond it and suggests that also a sociological definition of culture is lacking as a basis for cultural policy, since such a definition “does not make it possible to point out special areas of policy reform” (SOU 1972:66: 168).

By looking at how UNESCO constructs cultural policy as “matters of concern,” we may begin to assemble a list of controversies, morphologies, and metrologies that go into it.

Table 1 Controversies, Morphologies, Metrologies of the New Cultural Policy

The newness of the 1972 report and the 1974 bill can be precisely framed by the ways in which the controversies of the UNESCO proceedings are transformed and translated into the Swedish context: the notion of [1] cultural policy as focused by “the cultural budget” and [2] the transformed sense of culture as “cultural development,” which is presented as causally related to how “the cultural budget” is now seen as central to the cultural development of the nation, are discussed in detail, as are [3] the link between culture and personal, economic and social development; [4] the need to replace the private sector with government as the underwriter and sponsor of art and culture; [5] the related idea that culture can no longer be “regarded as a private matter for the individual,” which in turn produces [6] the insufficiency of state patronage as a model for cultural policy, even if this patronage happens “on a larger scale than before,” and the related idea of [7] the insufficiency of the former aim of cultural dissemination and the need to replace it with a participatory ambition, which in turn produces [8] the need to shift the definition of culture from traditional categories without “a dilution of standards.” All this is framed by methodological concerns, mainly [9] the poverty of philosophy and aesthetics in describing cultural development, and [10] the strong sense that cultural policy needs to be centralized before it can be made to work for democratization; and, most importantly in terms of transforming the notion of culture and art to governmentalize it, [11] the insistence that cultural policy should rest on quantifiable, objective data.

In the table, we count the re-figurations of the “3.321 Project” into the Swedish report as morphologies, which we have left untranslated. Once repeated, we argue that a certain morphology has been given to the controversy, which, because it reappears in the Swedish report and bill, has proven to hold the controversy together, what Desrosières calls a “routine interpretation” producing “objects that hold together” and which “‘hold people together’ by constraining them to a standard set of linguistic terms.” This is how we understand the process described by Latour, whereby controversies are first given existence, and then figuration and eventually participate in what he calls “empirical metaphysics,” by which he means the formation of the social aggregate itself, which always contains the formation of groups and anti-groups. This is how Latour explains it: “In the same way group performation maps out for the benefit of the enquirer the anti-groups making up their social world, accounts of agency will constantly add new entities while withdrawing others as illegitimate (2005: 56, our emphasis). In Table 1 we can see, e.g., how patronage, traditional notions of aesthetic excellence and philosophy of culture are made illegitimate, and how novel concepts such as the cultural budget, participatory cultural activities and the preference for quantifiable objective data are added.

Latour derives the concept of performation from Michel Callon, who argues that it is an essential feature of the ways in which “the natural and life sciences, along with the social sciences, contribute toward enacting the realities that they describe” (2007: 315) and therefore are part of the way in which our societies are governed through carefully constructed “sociotechnical agencements” (2007: 319). Returning to the Swedish report and bill we may thus argue that the performation of “the ‘new problems of cultural policy’” developed in UNESCO are a recurrent “activity” and “material operation” producing a very particular “sociotechnical agencement” for cultural policy in Sweden. The eleven, almost randomly compiled “controversies” listed in the table are returned to repeatedly in the report and bill, beginning with the emphasis on newness and the invalidation of the old. Therefore, the list of morphologies we present are not in any way causally related or structurally connected to the controversy. The important point is that performation occurs and that sociotechnical agencements are produced with groups and anti-groups. This is how we believe that the work of UNESCO is essential in the formation of cultural policy in Sweden.

In these inaugurating moments of “the cultural budget,” we believe that it is possible to follow the skeins of translations and delegations as they move from the context of UNESCO into Swedish cultural policy. However, as the number of centres of calculation producing metrologies increase over time, it becomes more unwieldy to trace the skeins on which the metrologies travel. Once cultural policy truly becomes captured by econometrics (which happens in the 1990s), there are simply too many mediators and intermediaries present in the policies for the tracings of associations to make sense on this level of detail. Instead, the analysis needs to be shifted towards describing the rationalities and technologies producing the empirical metaphysics discussed earlier.

According to Jacobsson (2014), towards the end of the 1960s the Swedish governmental policy work had developed a strong “administrative rationality,” and this rationality also steered the reasoning and argumentation in the 1972 report (53). Quite concretely, the representatives of the report writing committee connected to the Swedish National Audit Office and the Swedish Agency for Public Management brought along with them the ideas of goals and planning that characterise the report (Jacobsson 2014: 55). We suggest that the “administrative rationality” includes the selection of metrologies that are used to anchor the ideas and plans. As shown in Table 1, the 1972 report uses official statistics, government allocations of funds, annual reports from cultural institutions, previous governments’ investigations and reports, and investigations produced specifically for the 1972 report as points of departure for the metrologies (SOU 1972:66: 527). The report presents details of various cultural budgets, numbers of visits to cultural institutions, statistics of library lending, and their geographical spread. However, it is not always clear where, specifically, the given numbers come from; they are simply offered as facts. The background facts about the Swedish population and their cultural habits is four pages long, and contains two sections: the problem of leisure time, and the population structure. Consequently, while the metrological apparatus for culture is well in place as it concerns the budget, it is less so when it concerns the audience numbers and the geographical spread of cultural institutions, and hardly at all when it concerns the social structure of uses of culture. A lot of effort in the report goes into developing the political rationalities for the distribution of tasks which concern cultural policy, at the same time as the report, not surprisingly, laments that it cannot make any predictions about the future as it lacks even “elementary facts about individuals and culture” (SOU 1972:66: 213). Perhaps the most important point of all is that the same list of controversies, morphologies and metrologies are repeated in many national reports in the UNESCO series, proving that indeed there was performation on a scale beyond the nation state.

Metrologies of Cultural Policy: The Swedish Governmental Reports from 1995 and 2009

The 1995 report (SOU 1995:85) and bill (Prop. 1996/97:3) is not a radical break from 1972 when it comes to the content of the policy, but it contains a massive expansion and intensification of metrologies. The facts and statistics are presented as a separate appendix of 657 pages in the order in which they appear in the report, including also tables which are not explicitly discussed in the report but are part of the reasoning presented. All the tables and facts contain a precise attribution of source. Statistics Sweden is by far the biggest source of evidence, but also the Swedish Arts Council, other official reports, and private audience analysis companies are used as sources. Since the 1980s, various cultural statistics had been produced: Statistics Sweden published yearly Statistical Notices and had given out three books on cultural statistics: 1981, 1987, and 1994 (SOU 1995:85: 25). The Swedish Arts Council published a yearly Cultural Barometer, had done several audience surveys with the Swedish Radio Corporation on radio, TV and media habits, and gathered continuous statistics from cultural institutions; artists’ unions, libraries, book, film and video branches provided their statistics; and yet, the report notes, statistics from different areas are quite different in “extent, preciseness and usability” (SOU 1995:85: 26). Nevertheless, in a separate section on monitoring and evaluation, the report notes that while huge amounts of “facts” are available about the cultural field, they are not consistently spread across the field (SOU 1995:85: 745). While the 1972 report treated statistics as providing a basis for future evaluation and planning, it did not consider evaluating how the policy objectives are met (SOU 1995:85: 740). The report points out that evaluating objectives is something else than monitoring, goes deeper, and includes “quality and other immaterial measures” (SOU 1995:85: 744), and calls for more data about the content produced at cultural institutions, content produced by actors outside grant systems, reviews and opinions of those who partake in cultural activities, economic analyses of voluntary work, and more systematically compiled analyses of audiences and the population (SOU 1995:85: 745–747). In fact, the authors of the report have themselves pursued indicators for cultural activities, but have abandoned the pursuit, only to leave it for others to pursue further:

Nobody has managed to produce clear indicators—simple, understandable, and relevant for cultural policy—for achieving the objectives. We worked on the issue at the beginning of the process, but, like so many others, had to abandon the pursuit due to difficulties. Measures for different kinds of cultural activities exist, but they do not cover everything, and not always to the desired quality. The main problem is to find a limited set of indicators that capture cultural activities in all their plenitude, including qualities of different kinds. The Swedish Arts Council is now taking part in an international development work towards possibly approaching a solution. (SOU 1995:85: 662)

Thus, the report contends, the cultural field should not be blamed for not having developed indicators for evaluating objectives and sub-objectives, since these “‘rules’” have only recently started spreading in public financial management (SOU 1995:85: 739–740). The metrological problem is considerably less severe here than in the 1972 report; more precise and more usable statistics are needed, but there is a sense that this is not an insurmountable problem. The new problem of measuring the achievement of objectives with indicators is clearly expressed, but at the same time the problem is so new in public management that no actions for it need to be presented: it is enough to state that international work in the area is under way.

The 2009 report on culture (SOU 2009:16) is published in three parts: Basic Analysis (Grundanalys), Program of Renewal (Förnyelseprogram), and The Architecture of Cultural Policy (Kulturpolitikens arkitektur). Compared to the 1995 report, it is metrologically a novel direction for veridiction. First, the barrage of tables is gone; statistics and facts do not pave the way to establishing the empirical ontologies of acknowledged problems and solutions. Statistics about budget development, state, regional and municipal spending come after the long history of “leaving the 20th century,” and while these statistics point to geographical, educational, and gender inequalities in the field of culture, instead of leading to reflections on how to address these inequalities, they lead to conclusions about how to re-organise state, regional and municipal cooperation (SOU 2009:16 Grundanalys: 285). Likewise, while analysis of cultural habits show inequalities between age groups, big cities and countryside, the conclusion is that these statistics are so insufficient that changes should be done to the management of cultural affairs to develop the collection of statistics, research and analyses (SOU 2009:16 Grundanalys: 293). In a section titled “Supply of Statistics, Monitoring and Evaluation,” the report points out that although statistics are central for cultural policy, they are “afflicted by deficiencies and uncertainties,” drag behind new habits, and what is needed instead is “ongoing monitoring” (SOU 2009:16 Kulturpolitikens arkitektur: 27); that is, “relevant statistics for a better monitoring and evaluation” (SOU 2009:16 Kulturpolitikens arkitektur: 31). However, what these relevant statistics would be is never specified. Instead, the greatest form of veridiction by far is an appeal to what we might in shorthand call critical theorists (e.g. Bakhtin, Castells, Florida, Giddens, Habermas, McLuhan, Putnam). In many ways, the main problem in this report is not to establish a practical ontology on which to act through practices of veridiction (the very possibility of doing that directly with policy seems to be under question), but to re-establish those forms, channels, and rules through which policy is made actionable, which is to say, to emphasize continuous monitoring and auditing through the development of relevant metrologies.

The Cascading Metrologies of Swedish Cultural Policy after 2009

Considering that the 1995 report calls for the development of cultural indicators, and the 2009 report pays so much attention to the need of continuous monitoring and evaluation, it is somewhat surprising that the 2009 report barely addresses the issue of cultural indicators. In fact, the only time the report touches on the idea of developing indicators is in the context of regions: how to evaluate the new model of cooperation between the state, the regions and the municipalities, which is assumed to give more power to the regions (SOU 2009:16: 279), and how to stimulate regional growth (SOU 2009:16: 194). In the case of stimulating regional growth, the report refers to an earlier governmental mapping on how to develop evaluation systems and indicators for culture and cultural heritage (Riksantikvarieämbetet 2005), but by 2005, the cultural indicator development had already cascaded into a massive, global, networked (governmental, non-governmental, and private) enterprise, aware of the problems of producing relevant indicators, yet pursuing them nevertheless. E.g., in 2005 the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) noted the following key problems with cultural indicators: it is not clear what the indicators should measure, what they are, how they should be used; there is a lack of quality data; frameworks are unwieldy (they are presented as general wish-lists or are too specific); policy objectives are vague; development work is replicated worldwide; work is doubled up and overlapping; and the differences in approaches hinder international standardisation (2005: 8–9). Yet, the report ends up recommending that the “development of reliable, timely and robust cultural indicators is essential for formulating effective arts policies, as well as for consolidating the position of arts support agencies in the face of greater accountability to government and the public (2005: 13).

What seems to characterise recent metrological development is tighter networking of supranational agencies (UNESCO, IFACCA, Interarts) working in close cooperation with government agencies (the Swedish Arts Council, the Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy Analysis), together with non-profit organisations (Nordicom), independent survey institutes (SOM-Institute), regional and municipal government levels and policy entrepreneurs (Ramböll Management, Volante), to mention just some actors in Sweden. These actors usually belong to several international networks with multiple stakeholders and agendas. The metrology development thus includes the concerns of local cultural policy expenditure and spread, and the networked, global quality of that cultural action: e.g., United Cities and Local Government network (USLG), who, with their Agenda 21 for Culture, work to link the notions of culture, rights, and citizenship, to identify cultural factors and measures for sustainable social development and guidelines for local governments in promoting this work (2015: 11–13). Partners in this works include, e.g., IFACCA, International Federation of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity (IFCCD), Culture Action Europe, but also cities such as Bilbao and Malmö. These developments match well with UNESCO’s latest Framework for Cultural Statistics from 2009 (FCS), which aims to transcend specifically three “regularly occurring cultural policy dichotomies” and include them in the framework of statistics: [1] scope of culture (economic-social), [2] governance mode (public-private), and [3] degree of institutionalisation (formal-informal)” (Unesco Institute for Statistics 2009: 17). The framework goes beyond the dichotomies not by offering philosophical insights into culture, but by establishing “a methodology and standard for organizing cultural statistics that will allow for the production of internationally comparable data” (UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2009: 82). The FCS metrology consist of “Cultural productive activities and goods and services defined with the CPC 2 and ISIC 4 codes,” “International trade of cultural goods and services defined with the Harmonised System (HS) 2007 codes,” “Cultural occupations defined with ISCO 08 codes,” and “Time use surveys using ICATUS codes” (UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2009: 52–81). Although “some tools already exist to measure the economic dimension of culture,” FCS recognises that “the social dimension of culture will require further work and elaboration” (UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2009: 82).

While the impact of this work remains uncertain, it is obvious that the standards of measurement are cascading in all directions. However, even if some of these initiatives are driven by local concerns or individual companies, in the end they are backed by states and supranational agencies through powerful sociotechnical agencements that support the networked and global quality of cultural policy today.


We have been tracing how culture in Sweden is given a certain mode of existence that allows it to be brought into the folds of government as an issue of policy, and the ways in which this policy stabilizes into routine forms of knowing. Concerns like these are typical for what Foucault defines as “governmentality.” In following the stabilization of controversies we have brought to the foreground the crucial notion of metrologies. The government reports on culture from 1934 establish the development of art and culture as a responsibility of government, and no longer simply a private concern. The 1972 report and the 1974 bill on culture use the cultural budget, translating UNESCO’s morphologies, to carve out a new area of politics in Sweden. The budget makes culture politically visible and becomes the source of veridiction for action; by collecting culture under one budget and political rationality, a new type of action on culture is possible, one that connects culture to other sectors of society, and connects the concerns of culture to general welfare politics.

The 1995 report is the epitome of statistical metrology, where it is no longer the budget statistics that dominate (they are important too), but sociological and cultural habits of the population, cut into a number of standardised units (men, women, immigrants, watching TV, having a computer, reading popular literature, etc.) that yield what is supposed to be relevant information of cultural needs and the potential deficiencies that can be identified, and thus form the basis of action. The level and amount of statistical detail contributes to making the 1972 stable category “class” illegitimate, while legitimising the category of “cultural identity.”

The 2009 report finds statistics fundamentally unreliable, slow, and missing the objectives to be pursued. Indeed, the policy objectives so important to 1972 and 1995 reports are dismissed as “tautological” (SOU 2009:16: 37). Instead, it tries to construct an entry into the 21st century, putatively informed by cultural theory, where focus is no longer on the targets of distribution of culture (whether they be units of classes or individuals, they are statistically misconstrued unreal entities anyway, the report suggests): instead the focus is on the self-monitoring delivery systems of culture, such as audits, benchmarks and best practice regimes.

Since 2009, the sites producing metrologies have been proliferating. In this era of cascading metrologies, the global dimension of cultural policy has become even more pronounced. Even if states still underwrite the cultural budget, cultural policy is increasingly audited by the supranational agencies driving the development of metrologies. Metrologies are at the very centre of the performated social aggregates that make up our world. Without paying attention to these rationalizing and technologizing agencies, we will never quite understand how cultural policy was able to develop into the unified, global field we see today.


We thank the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences for their generous support of our research.


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1The concept of folkbildning has been translated into English and understood in various ways. For more detailed discussions of the term and its importance to Swedish cultural policy, see Harding 2015 and SOU 2003:94.
2All translations from the Swedish language sources are by the authors.

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