9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN02 Sociology of the Arts

2009-09-05 15:30:00 2009-09-05 17:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 15:30 - 17:00 Arts and Education Building II, C6.07

Are 'Children' the New 'Social Inclusion' in British Cultural Policy?

Gordon Brown's Labour government announced that schools must provide all British children with five hours of "high quality culture" each week. In the words of the Children's Secretary, Ed Balls, "All children and young people should have the chance to experience top quality culture - whether that is seeing a play or dance performance, learning a musical instrument or producing some creative writing."? The announcement coincides with a shift in the rhetoric in government documents from Arts Council England, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and elsewhere. These documents have moved toward a focus on children (and the creative economy) as priorities for arts funding; the emphasis on social inclusion, which was prevalent under the previous government of Tony Blair, has virtually disappeared.

This paper reports on one aspect of a larger project on cultural policy in the United Kingdom examining trends toward the marketisation of public-sector arts, increasing government intervention, and a growing emphasis on managerialism. The project focuses on the analysis of government documents and policies relating to the arts and arts organisations. This paper looks at the implications of changing government rhetorics with respect to social inequality, and poses some questions. For instance, is a focus on children an indication of the dismissal of the current generation of socially excluded? Does a focus on the creative potential of children contribute more effectively to commercial interests in the creative economy than a focus on social inclusion? And might efforts to raise the cultural capital of every child actually increase social inequality? Drawing on Bourdieu, I suggest that students from backgrounds with higher cultural capital may be more successful in drawing benefits from the mandated hours of arts exposure and participation as compared with children from backgrounds poorer in cultural capital.