By Jerry C Y Liu
Associate Professor, Graduate School of Arts Management and Cultural Policy, National Taiwan University of Arts; President, Taiwan Association of Cultural Policy Studies
The Ecology of culture and values: Implications for cultural policy and governance
In this article, I argue for a cultural ecology approach to cultural policy and governance, which focuses on collaboration, cooperation, coordination, co-creation, coexistence and cross-fertilizing of nature and humanities, and which goes beyond the logics of cultural administration, hierarchical government, and market rules and economic values. Taking the pre-modern Chinese concept of “nature”, the philosophical principles of “harmony” and “unity of humanities and nature” suggest a very disparate cultural logic or way of reasoning regarding the measurement of cultural value. Such a pro-humanistic Chinese tradition sheds light on a new mode of cultural governance, which emphasizes “self-regulation” and “self-reflection” of both governors and the governed. A cultural ecology approach also indicates a new model of network governance of culture, which involves complex connectivity of cultural, social, political and economic incentives and value variables. A much wider framework for cultural evaluation is needed to strike a balance between instrumental goals and cultural, artistic, social, and humanistic values, which allows the varied values, logics and positions of cultural agents to be understood and taken into fuller account.
In the plenary session of the ENCATC Annual Conference 2015 “Culture Ecosystems: Community Engagement, Co-creation and Cross Fertilization” on October 21st 2015, panelists intensely responded to John Holden’s keynote lecture on the Ecology of Culture. One of the key debates that came up was related to the question of whether cultural theorists can propose a better and more convincing method to measure the value of culture empirically, numerically; or if there are other, non-economic ways that can be easily understood by economists, social scientists, policy makers and the general public? In other words, how could cultural values be measured or scientifically evaluated in the framework of the modern knowledge regime or paradigm? In the field of cultural policy, as remarked by Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive of Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), “we are lacking robust methodologies for demonstrating the value of the arts and culture, and for showing exactly how public funding of them contributes to wider social and economic goals” (Crossick & Kaszynska, 2016, p. 4).
My answer – or question – in response to the debate and the methodological concerns it raises is, however, how much do we value a heart-touching movie, and how do we measure the value of a tear-drop listening to a moving popular song in a live concert?
“If culture in essence includes love, passion, affection and arts, the integral and indivisible parts of human senses – you don’t measure it, you feel it” (Jerry Liu).
In the modern age, we are too used to close our senses and feelings off, and give in easily to instrumental reasons, numbers, figures, scientific charts and empirical data for policy making. Underlying questions above are the methodological debates for the measurement of cultural values between social sciences and the humanities. In the age of creative and cultural industries and the symbolic economy, we need to find a balanced method for evaluating and presenting the intrinsic and instrumental values of culture. And, I argue, a cultural ecology approach suggests a new model of network governance of culture, and potentials of a much wider framework for cultural evaluation. Such a framework makes attempts to achieve a balance between instrumental goals and cultural, artistic, social, and humanistic values of culture. It allows the varied values, logics and positions of cultural agents to be taken into a fuller account.
The AHRC’s Cultural value Project and “The Ecology of Culture” Report
In 2013, the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) supported the three-year Cultural Value Project to look into questions of “why the arts and culture matter; how we capture the effects that they have; and how we think about the value of the arts and culture to individuals and to society”. The project is an in-depth attempt to reflect upon the methodological and empirical issues related to how intrinsic and instrumental value of culture in creative and cultural industries can be better evaluated. The main objectives of the project are to identify the various components that make up cultural value; and to consider and develop the methodologies and the evidence that might be used to evaluate these components of cultural value (Crossick & Kaszynska, 2016, p. 6).
John Holden’s “The Ecology of Culture” report (2015) was commissioned as part of the Cultural Value Project. In the report, Holden adopts Markussen’s definition of the cultural ecology as meaning “the complex interdependencies that shape the demand for and production of arts and cultural offerings”. He “argues that examining culture as an ecology, rather than as an economy, offers a better approach, because it provides a comprehensible overview that does not privilege ‘financial value’ over others that attach to culture” (Holden, 2015, p. 2). Holden offers three examples to visualize the cultural ecology: one looks at culture as a regenerative cycle (create, curate, collect, conserve, revive); another understands culture as a local network, and the third concentrates on the interacting roles (guardians, connectors, platforms, nomads) played by different “actors” within the cultural system (2015, p. 27-31). The biological metaphors are inter-related. “For example, emergence is the precursor to growth; growth takes place within the context of complex interdependencies that develop through networks; and the evolution of the overall system is a function of the development of its parts” (2015, p. 18). The ecology of culture account recognizes the broader context in which culture sits, and it notes that culture “exists within a wider political, social and economic environment with both proximate and remote connections” (2015, p. 22).
Cultural ecology: Fits survive? Or survivals fit?
I echo Holden’s (2015) positions on that taking a cultural ecological approach leads to emphasis on the collaborative, cooperative, coordinating, co-creative, coexisting, and cross-fertilizing roles in an ecology. Cultural ecology is the study of the ways in which culture is used by people to adapt to their environment; it explains how and why cultures adapt in one way and not another (Sutton & Anderson, 2010, p. 4 & 131). In cultural policy, this implies that one should go beyond the logics of cultural administration and hierarchical government, to look at collaboration, coordination and cooperation among agents in the network of cultural governance. Cultural policymakers have to transcend logics of market rules and economic values of culture, and nurture the co-creative, coexisting, and cross-fertilizing role of creative and cultural industries.
However, the ecological and biological metaphors applied to culture still indicate the realism of nature. Evolution of culture tends to make “fits survive” an underlying principle of natural and social Darwinism, which takes jungle rules, free competition and relentless acquisition of power and capital as an inevitable part of nature. Before easily complying with the taken-for-granted rule of natural law in the European tradition, it may be useful to go into some discussion about the traditional Chinese context of the “nature” Concept. The philosophical principles of “harmony” and “unity of humanities and nature” in pre-Jesuit China seem to suggest a quite disparate logic of “survivals fit” for the concept of “nature”. The pro-humanistic tradition manifests a different cultural logic in the regime of knowledge in China, and it may shed some light on our reflection upon the ecology of culture approach.
Unity of nature and humanities: cultural logics in pre-modern Chinese knowledge regime
The concept of nature is a good entry point to delineate the tradition of European and Chinese knowledge regimes, and human ways of reasoning. In Europe, The medieval hierarchy of the sciences was integrated by logic and theology into a coherent worldview. The Christianised Aristotelianism re-established a unity of the world order where every being had its natural place. However, such Aristotelian unity of the world order was challenged by the restless scientific spirit from the 13th century onwards. From Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton, the specialised, materialist, and empirical investigations led European intellectuals to leave the great questions of religion and philosophy aside, and to no longer concern themselves overmuch with the coherence and wholeness of humanism and nature. This reduced nature to a formula such as the “mechanical universe”. Discovery of a “mechanical universe” further broke humanistic “nature” away from the Aristotelian unity of nature and Christian doctrine. Scientific research began to unload their burden of moral judgment of humanities (McNeill, 1963, p. 602; Braudel, 1987, p. 366-367).
“Nature”, “natural laws” or “natural science” in pre-modern China differed immensely from the European tradition. For the Chinese, morality, ethics and human feelings or human “nature” under the principle of “unity of the nature and humanity” were indivisible from the ethic-freed or value-neutralised natural world at the very first instance (Du, 1997, p. 133-134). Concepts of morality and ethics in traditional China have been tightly integrated with the natural world. As early as the 4th Century BC, Zhuang Tzu recorded that “human beings coexist with the earth and heaven, everything is united together, and we cross-fertilize one another”. In the Earlier Han Dynasty, the political philosophy of the Prime Minister Dong Zhong-Shu (179-104 BC) closely tied the “Mandate of Heaven” (the “way of tien or nature”) to the behaviours of the rulers (action of humanity). He argued in his Many Dewdrops of Spring and Autumn that “if the committing of evil and crimes by monarchs brings calamities to the people, Heaven will deprive the monarchs of the power to rule” (Deng, 1999, p. 109).
Based on the Confucian tradition and absorbing the Buddhist way of self-cultivation, Taoist mysterious philosophy, and a nomadic or peasant spirit of commonsense, a moral and ethical-based “commonsense rationality” was formulated during the Song and Ming Periods. The Song scholars related the Confucian concept of “benevolence” to the Taoist metaphysic concept of “Tao” and “universe”. By so doing they connected the nature of human reason with the law of natural phenomena, and injected moral and ethical meanings into the natural law. Representative figures of the “rationalistic school” like Zhou Dun-Yi (1017-1073), Zheng Yi (1032-1085), Zheng Ying (1033-1107), and Zhu Hsi (1130-1200) advocated the principle of “unity of the nature and humanity”, which affirmed the union of natural order and life philosophy in the Chinese worldview, and provided the basis for all interpersonal relations. Neo-Confucian scholars in the middle and late Ming period extended this moralized natural law even further. Lu Xiang-Shan (1139-1193) and Wang Yang-Ming (1472-1528) asserted that human emotion, consciousness and common feelings of the people should be taken as the basis of an ethical system; for them, “goodness” and “sincerity” came in fact from the inner heart of every human being (Jin & Liu, 2000).
The unification of humanistic and instrumental rationality operated in a very different “natural context”, which saw the wholeness of the natural world, ethics and humanity, not as a burden of knowledge but an inborn and requisite integrity (Du, 1997, p. 134). These cultural logics were deeply and strongly integrated with the humanistic feelings of people through all sort of daily practices in the socio-political institutions. If I may make an abrupt simplification, in the European tradition, a more instrumental view of human reason that emphasizes goal-achievement, profit or interest calculation, and/or scientific and logical deduction and induction, seems to play an upper hand (Liu, 2008). The danger for the process of instrumental rationalization is, as Weber recognized, that there is the dehumanized tendency (Weber, 1947, p. 112). It could proceed in a direction which is at the expense of emotional values and any belief in absolute values. In China, a “pro-humanistic” cultural logic stresses less the objective or goal, profit orientations, or the scientific logic of a human behaviour. Different from the dominant instrumental view in Europe, such a process prioritises a general and sympathetic understanding of human desires, minds and feelings as a whole. It emphasizes the fusion of the nature, inborn human morality and pragmatic profit calculation (Liu, 2009). This humanistic way of thinking puts weight on the spirit of commonness in day-to-day life practices, the self-generating moral-ethical senses of human beings, and the spontaneous flow of human emotions (Liu, 2008).
In cultural policy, the “unity of nature and humanity” approach of cultural ecology implies a new mode of cultural governance, which integrates the moral-ethical senses of human beings, and the spontaneous flow of human emotions into the biological and ecological metaphors of cultural ecology. It leads to a more balanced evaluation framework of instrumental goals and cultural, artistic, and humanistic values in cultural policy assessing. Cultural governance in this sense also opens up the possibilities for self-governing of the conduct/ethics/morality of both citizens and policymakers themselves (cultural governance from the inside out), by refraining the governors from misconduct and by allowing the governed to develop a multiple-centered and collaborative form of network governance. By adhering to the intrinsic cultural values of a society, the state cultural institutions are situated in a specific cultural milieu, which allows governors and the governed to go beyond the instrumental logic of cultural administration, hierarchical government, market rules and economic values of culture (cultural governance from the outside in) (Liu, 2014).
An ever complex network of cultural governance and values
As mentioned above, the cultural ecological metaphor recognizes that culture sits in a broader inter-related context of social, political and economic environment. The implication for cultural policy and governance is that it involves complex inter-connectivity of networks of agents, who possess different cultural, social, political and economic incentives and values. Such networks of stakeholders and agents of cultural governance include: 1) cultural political networks of government cultural apparatuses, organizations, public cultural institutions (museums, galleries etc.), advisory bodies, committees and arms-length cultural and arts councils at the international, national, regional and local levels; 2) cultural economic networks of agents such as creative and cultural industries, business enterprise sponsors, private donors and art-cultural foundations; 3) cultural societal networks of agents such as not-for-profit art-cultural institutions, visual-performance art groups, heritage preservation groups, social/cultural ethnic organizations, local history communities, professional associations of arts-cultural practitioners and academic institutions, among others, and 4) cultural media networks of agents such as mass media, independent journalists, freelance art critic writers, and art communities or individuals on the internet.
Behind the cultural networks of agents and stakeholders there are varied (instrumental and humanistic) “rational” values, factor variables and incentives for policy interventions. Among them, we find: a) primordial factors such as blood-ties, skin, color and homelands; b) power factors such as institutions, bureaucracy, administration elite, profession, rules, and policy process; c) interest factors like money, capital, properties, resources, profits calculation, individual interest; d) public communication factors like public participation, public will, media, rights, social movements, cultural resistance, networks; e) critical and reflexive factors like cultural ideals, values, morality, ethics, aesthetics, and norms; and f) everyday life and humanness factors such as ways of life, practice, discontinuities, fragments, simplicity, emotion, feelings, nature (Liu, 2011). These factors range from intrinsic (subjective experience of culture intellectually, emotionally and spiritually) to instrumental (the ancillary effects of culture, where culture is used to achieve a social or economic purpose), or institutional. Institutional value sees the role of cultural organizations not simply as mediators between politicians and the public, but as active agents in the creation or destruction of what the public values (Holden, 2006, p. 14-18).
Taking the recent case of a hotel resort construction at Shayuanwan (or fudafudak in Amis language) in Taiwan as an example, a seemingly straightforward tourism development plan incidentally raises complicated issues of cultural value choices. Media reports and public debates of the Bay of Beauty revolve around contradictory cultural value variables such as:
- Job opportunities and livings
- Local economic income of hotel and cultural tourism
- City planning and urban development
- Convenience of residents’ life and cultural modernity
- Political promises and votes
- Autonomy of aboriginal traditional territory
- Preservation of tangible and intangible heritages
- Protection of natural environment
- Cultural diversity and public will
- Social and ethnic cohesion
- Freedom of artistic expression
- Aboriginal way of life
Luckily, through the joint efforts of local residents, aboriginal groups, environmental groups and artists’ intervention, the hotel resort construction plan was eventually put to a hold. The Taidong city government lost the case in the Supreme Administrative Court on March 31st 2016, and tens of other urban development plans along the entire coastal area will have to be suspended following the sentence of the Shayuanwan case. This signifies a critical humanistic cultural turn over the economic logic of urban development plan. A cultural ecological approach here demonstrates that aesthetical and humanistic values (artists’ cultural ideals, passion, fervour, enthusiasm, cultural awareness), social impacts (cultural activism and art-cultural intervention in social issues), political engagements (public will, cultural participation, and deliberative democracy) are no less important than citizens’ economic interest (profits in cultural trade, cultural tourism and festivals, or cultural consumption).
The key question thereafter, however, is how to get aesthetical values, social impacts, political powers and economic benefits, and other value-rational factors to go in harmony. Taking a cultural ecological approach hence means that one needs to look further into the collaborative, cooperative, coordinating, co-creative, coexisting, and cross-fertilizing role of the agents in the networks. And one has to seek the mutual understanding of position and reciprocal mode of interaction; the different values and logics in the field; the interpenetrating relations among official, non-official, thematic and general sub-networks; the flow and exchanges of persons, cultural goods, (social, economic and cultural) capital, service, ideas, and values among agents in the arts-cultural governance networks (Rhodes, 1999a & 1999b; Holden, 2015; Liu, 2011 & 2015b).
A wider framework for the measurement of cultural values
Returning to the methodological debates between social sciences and the humanities for the measurement of cultural values, Belfiore and Bennett (2010, p. 138) suggest that historical study of the powerful and long-standing beliefs regarding the “transformative powers of the arts” might have an “enlightenment” function for the cultural policymaker. The humanities-based approach may provide “background ideas, concepts and analysis that could move arts impact research forward in interesting directions, and might ultimately feed back into policy debates”. Scott thus argues for an emerging paradigm in national approaches for measuring cultural value. It is well-noted the tension “between the ‘instrumental’ policies of governments and their adoption of econometric measurement systems and advocates within the cultural sector, who argued for more holistic systems of measurement encompassing ‘intrinsic’ values and admitting qualitative data, gained momentum” in the past decade. The debates ultimately served to force wider acknowledgement of the legitimacy of intrinsic benefits of culture and the need to develop measures in conversation with the cultural sectors and the public who use their services (Scott, 2014).
Recent researches and policy measure studies – such as the INCD Framework of Cultural Impact Assessment (Sagnia, 2004); the Guidelines on the Analysis of Human Rights Impacts in Impact Assessments for Trade-related Policy Initiatives (European Commission, 2015), and Cultural-related Impact Assessment in the European Union (Schindler, 2012); the WIPO Draft Guidelines on Assessing the Economic, Social and Cultural Impact of Copyright on the Creative Economy (WIPO, 2013); national cultural indicators in Australia, New Zealand or Canada (Tabrett, 2014; Hong, 2014; McCaughey, Duxbury & Meisner 2014, respectively), and The UNESCO Culture for Development Indicators report (UNESCO, 2014); alongside the above-mentioned AHRC Cultural Values Project in the UK (Crossick & Kaszynska, 2016) –, they all seem to point to a corresponding direction for the reevaluation of culture in policymaking.
The common threads linking these approaches are that they are iterative in their process and that “the national stage provides authority to the conversations and the consultations, the theories and the evidence”. It is hoped that these will serve to further discuss the place of culture, its role and its value in the 21st century societies (Scott, 2014). A cultural ecology approach means to reintegrate the ecological with the humanistic nature. This implies a new mode of cultural governance, which takes into account the moral-ethical senses, and the spontaneous flow of human emotions alongside instrumental goals. If cultural governance means to place culture at the center of governance (Hall, 1997), what’s needed, in my opinion, is a “cultural turn” or even a “paradigm shift” of governance. Policy makers and citizens need to shift the underlying logic of governance (policy debates) from that of one-sided commercial interest, urban development, market competition, and political powers, to that of culture – values, aesthetics, artistic and humanistic ideals, and historic assets and memories (Liu, 2015a). So far, the knowledge regimes for instrumental/econometric measurement seem too strong to be shattered.
Questions for further discussion
- What do we actually mean by “balance” or “harmony” in the context of cultural ecosystems?
- What difference does it make for cultural industries to take a free competition model or a cross-fertilizing model?
- In your natural context, is it practical to ask for a cultural turn or paradigm shift in cultural policy evaluation?
- How can the humanities contribute to a better assessment of cultural impact in urban development?
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 The question has been rephrased.
 O’Brien (2004) summarized it well, stating that in Europe, “from its very inception everything in the world could be represented as having been purposefully fashioned and rationally organized in ways that could: (a) be systematically investigated, validated by observation and controlled experiments and, (b) (and this powerful and productive notion emanated from Graeco-Roman-Christian traditions of intellectual representation) expressed in the logical and universally comprehensible and comprehendible language of mathematics. The gradual consolidation of a ‘belief’ in natural laws provided an increasing minority of educated Europeans inclined to conduct systematic investigations into natural phenomena with the confidence required to recognize that success must crown their efforts (…) Furthermore, by deploying a rhetorically powerful mathematical logic together with experimental methods, they gradually convinced political, economic and ecclesiastical elites in Europe that traditional understandings of the celestial, terrestrial and biological domains of nature (based either on scripture or upon established classical texts of Ptolemy, Aristotle and Galen, let alone Aquinas) had run into diminishing returns and provided an inadequate basis for the accumulation of more useful and reliable knowledge”.
 The case of the hotel resort construction at Shayuanwan or fudafudak (Bay of Beauty is ironically named after the hotel resort) in Taidong has caused some controversies. In Taiwan, the western coast of the island is composed of plains, metropolitan cities, and urban sites. It is heavily populated with Han ethnic groups, and it is marked by modernity. The eastern coast, however, is covered by rocky, natural gorges and coast areas. It is more rural, less developed, hence natural and populated by a mixture of aboriginal communities. The hotel resort was allowed to be constructed in purposeful avoidance of official environmental assessment to favor the local government’s urban development plan. Since Shayuanwan is originally an aboriginal traditional territory and sea area of the Amis tribe in the eastern coast of Taiwan, this raised complex issues of value choices for local Han and aboriginal residents and western Taiwanese tourists.
Jerry C Y Liu is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Arts Management and Cultural Policy of the National Taiwan University of Arts. He is the first President of the Taiwan Association of Cultural Policy Studies. He has been invited to be an ENCATC International Correspondence Board Member for the period 2015-2017. Liu has been a consulting member of the Culture Basic Law and the Global Outreach Office of Ministry of Culture in Taiwan. Liu is the author and editor of The Mapping of Cultural Rights in Taiwan (2015, in Chinese). His current research focuses on cultural governance and cultural policy, the concept of cultural logic in modern Chinese and European history, as well as the interactivity between culture and political economy in international cultural relations. He is working on his new book, ReOrienting Cultural Policy and Cultural Governance (in Chinese).