The autonomous world reversed

Comparing liberal policy and autonomy in the performing arts

Comparative studies of cultural policy commonly emphasize the way in which states treat the autonomy of the arts. Such studies often claim that liberal states promote autonomy, while social democratic states promote more external, instrumental values, such as solidarity, universalism and equality. This article challenges this conception by claiming that in actual cultural policy-making it is in fact the other way around. Based on a comparative study of theater policy in England, Norway and the Netherlands, I find that the focus on artistic autonomy is surprisingly absent in the liberal state of England, compared to what it is in the social democratic state of Norway. Conversely, English theaters are more obliged to work for, and with, the citizens and the community than theaters in Norway are. In the Netherlands, where recent development in general policy has headed in a liberal direction, artistic autonomy actually appears to be increasingly challenged.


Bård Kleppe




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