Books, Cultural Policy
London and Thousand Oaks: Sage University Press, 2012. 232 pp.
Reviewed by Shane Homan, April 1st, 2014
Since the late 1990s, ‘the creative industries’ has been the primary conceptual engine in thinking and policy about arts and culture in western societies. This book provides a thorough account of the term’s development, from the original blueprint of the UK Blair government, to its many national and regional variations. As both policy practitioner and cultural policy theorist, Terry Flew has been at the centre of the history of debates—the definitional wars—about ‘creative’ or ‘cultural’ industries. What is counted as arts/cultural/creative has mattered not just to academics, but has clearly had ongoing consequences for changing notions of public intervention and funding. The textbook approach to the first half of the book provides an essential primer for understanding the shifts in policy, particularly how national creative industry strategies were rolled out in parallel with the United Nations’ embrace of the term.
The book is important in placing in context how Richard Florida’s ‘creative class’ and ‘creative city’ moved from theoretical hyperbole to policy prescription template. The statistical evidence is compelling in Flew’s argument that creativity is increasingly important to economies; he is less convincing in dealing with critiques of the creative industries narrative. The major criticism—that creative industries discourses are a Trojan horse for neoliberalism—are dismissed by Flew as a ‘caricature’ of economics fundamentals (p. 73). In relation, accusations that the ‘new’ combinations of arts/cultural industries reinforce individual self-exploitation in very unstable work environments and rewards (the ‘precarious labour’ thesis) are also dismissed on lack of evidence (p. 106).
On the effects of globalisation, Flew similarly believes on balance that its ill effects are over-stated. Some working through of practicalities would be useful here. For example, music: inquiries are being established into how companies such as Apple and Google are ‘offshoring’ their tax arrangements to avoid national obligations; the gradual shift from five to three multinational companies in the last ten years; industry concerns about iTunes’ and Spotify’s power to deliver paltry royalty rates; or the recent iiNet case about downloading. Throughout, the reader is invited to gaze in wonder at the sheer speed and scale with which creative industries became important; the more messy interactions between policy, nation, citizen and artist are left un-investigated. Similarly, the highly vexed issue of copyright practices and governance is cited (pp. 174-176), but not properly examined – an important case study, I would suggest, in working through governance, globalisation and creative industries claims and counter-claims.
Flew asks, quite correctly, that these (sometimes very heated) debates be placed in wider contexts. What’s missing from this book is proper context: a set of grounded case studies that test both Flew’s inclination to too simply dismiss niggardly critics, and the claims made for the creative industries in heralding a more prized place at the Treasury table.