Governing culture: Legislators, interpreters and accountants

O'Brien, David and Donovan, Claire. 2016. Governing culture: Legislators, interpreters and accountants. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 37, pp. 24-34. ISSN 1045-2354 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Cultural policy has become dominated by questions of how to account for the intangible value of government investments. This is as a result of longstanding developments within government’s approaches to policy making, most notably those influenced by practices of audit and accounting. This paper will outline these developments with reference to Peter Miller’s concept of calculative practices, and will argue two central points: first, that there are practical solutions to the problem of measuring the value of culture that connect central government discourses with the discourses of the cultural sector; and second, the paper will demonstrate how academic work has been central to this area of policy making. As a result of the centrality of accounting academics in cultural policy, for example in providing advice on the appropriate measurement tools and techniques, questions are raised about the role academia might take vis-à-vis public policy. Accounting professionals and academics not only provide technical expertise that informs state calculative practices, but also play a surveillance role through the audit and evaluation of government programmes, and act as interpreters in defining terms of performance measurement, success and failure. The paper therefore concludes by reflecting on recent work by Phillip Schlesinger to preserve academic integrity whilst allowing accounting scholars and academics influence and partnership in policy.

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The research on which this paper is based was jointly funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council (grant numbers RES-173-27-0202 and ES-J008265-1). The authors would like to thank the participants of the New Public Sector (NPS) conference on The State, The Arts & Popular Culture, Edinburgh University, 7–8 November 2013, Professor Noel Hyndman, and the paper’s anonymous referees, for their helpful comments and observations.


Academia, BaumanCalculative practices, Cultural policy, Cultural value, Multi-criteria analysis

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute for Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship (ICCE)


1 April 2015Accepted
20 October 2015Published Online
1 June 2016Published

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Date Deposited:

04 Aug 2015 10:22

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:43

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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