eipcp Policies Anticipating European Cultural Policies
01 2003


A few general reflections on the position paper "Anticipating European Cultural Policies" by Th. Kaufmann and G. Raunig

Translated by Aileen Derieg

Stefan Nowotny

Stefan Nowotny


Aileen Derieg (translation)




Culture is a ceremonious word, especially when it is used in political contexts. It may be that the emphatic pathos has become more rare, with which Alfred Weber, grandfather of cultural sociology, described culture in 1912 as something "superfluous to the continued existence of life, which we yet feel precisely as (...) that for which it is there" [1]: the peculiar value, indeed more-than-value of culture remains generally undisputed. Culture as such is above the differences, so to speak; if there are disputes then it is - even where its politicization is called for - on behalf of a different understanding of culture.

The manner in which the European political discourse has taken up culture is ceremonious, too. This is almost nowhere more evident than in the statement from Jean Monnet that has been handed down virtually context-free (and probably constantly repeated for that very reason), who is purported to have said on some occasion or another that if European integration were to be begun anew, he would start with culture. Culture, as this quote suggests, stands at the starting point of Europe, even if the latter is not so aware of that, because the founding fathers of the EU unfortunately had other things on their mind. It is therefore all the more important to retrieve the forgotten origin of the project of European integration, most propitiously by giving it sufficient scope in the future EU constitution.

A position paper on European cultural policies, such as the one prepared by Therese Kaufmann and Gerald Raunig entitled "Anticipating European Cultural Policies", thus moves in a charged terrain. At the same time, though, it also moves in a terrain vague, not only because of the " traditional cultural policy talk and its hollow phraseology" (p. 3), but in the expressive sense of a still largely undeveloped terrain. It is undeveloped, in any case, to the extent that culture-political agendas still continue to have a marginal existence at the EU level - despite the support programs in recent years and despite the inclusion of the cultural Article 151 (formerly Art. 128). In addition, in light of the constitutionalization process initiated by the Convent, it is still open as to whether and in which form culture will enter into the political setup of the future EU as a kind of "state-defining structure" (or as the EU-specific correlate to that). The cultureuropolitical discourse, as we will see in greater detail, may have shot far ahead of the last question, in particular. Nevertheless, the situation of relative openness provides an occasion to examine the ground, on which a future Europe may be (partly) built.

This examination is to be conducted in the following in two ways: firstly as a reflection on the concept of culture itself against the background, in the words of Raymond Williams, of its "complex and still active history" [2]; and secondly through several fragments of a critical analysis of the discourses that have increasingly emerged in recent years on a "European culture" on the one hand and "the role of culture in Europe" on the other. Despite all their differences, these still form a conjunction that is not to be overlooked.

My reflections here are intended to be both a supplement to the article prepared by Kaufmann and Raunig, and an attempt to present a different perspective in terms of the more general question of cultural policies. At the same time, it seems to me that this addresses the central impulse of Kaufmann and Raunig's paper: namely that "cultural politics have to become a nucleus of democratic politics" (p. 17). It is this impulse, not least of all, that determines the tone of their text, which differs from both the aforementioned ceremoniousness and the bureaucratic plainness of the "corridors of Brussels". And it is this impulse that allows Kaufmann and Raunig to consistently reject the emblematic instrumentalization of "culture" in the context of EU policies, which is at work in the increasingly vociferous talk of a "cultural identity of Europe".

Yet it seems to me that particularly this rejection of "instrumentalization" is in need of further explanation. It appears to start from the twofold assumption that something like "culture" exists independently from and outside a political-instrumental logic and that it is the self-evident task of politics to foster this culture, but to leave it to its own devices apart from that. The gesture, in itself, would be nothing new. It would hardly differ from the attitude of the German educated bourgeoisie [3] that emerged in the 19th century, if Kaufmann and Raunig did not include a catalogue of guidelines focusing on a political transformation of the cultural field itself in place of an appeal to "cultural nation" that simultaneously secures and extends the bourgeois sphere of influence. Nevertheless, the gesture remains paradoxical, and this paradox has something to do with the concept of culture and its history.

This is most clearly illustrated with the notion of an "autonomy" of culture, which Kaufmann and Raunig explicitly reject with good reason, but from which the gesture described here nevertheless does not appear to be free. The idea of an autonomy of this kind undoubtedly draws from the romantic legacy, from the emphasis on creativity as an expression of that which is most originally human. More precisely: it draws from a certain reception of the Romantic era that conceals the fact that, even in the historical-theoretical field of the Romantic era, the concept of culture attained its modern characteristics less through the transcendental poetologies of a Novalis or Friedrich Schlegel than through Herder's drafts of a philosophy of history or Fichte's reflections on a cultural nation (Kulturstaat). This blind spot had consequences, as it merged into a notorious short-circuiting of the semantics of the concept of culture with categories of aesthetics and "education" (Bildung) in reference to human existence as such, without concretely taking the political and historical-theoretical implications of the concept into account. Traces of this blind spot - conveyed through a generalized concept of symbolic production - can still be read in the overestimation of the political potential of "cultural" transformations, which is characteristic of a number of more recent cultural analyses.

However, the notion of an autonomy of culture overlooks something else as well: namely that the concept of culture for its part, in places where it is specially conceptualized, dissolves and subordinates precisely the autonomies of, for instance, artistic and scientific production that it seems to underline and defend. Thus Georg Simmel, for example, was able to see what is essential to the "cultural ideal" in that it "suspends the inherent value of the aesthetic, the scientific, the moral, the eudaemonist, even the religious achievement, in order to integrate them all as elements or building blocks into the development of the human being beyond his natural state" [4]. "Culture" functions here as the term of integration, which - with the significant omission of the political here too - summarizes the meaning of certain human activities by relating these to a uniform process of the development of the "human being".

However, there are reasons for identifying traces of the political function of "culture" in the very construction of a "cultural ideal" of this kind. Adorno, for instance, related the integrative property of the concept of culture explicitly to the conditions of the modern bureaucratic state, rather than to the vague opposition to nature and an abstract human being: "Whoever speaks of culture speaks of administration as well, whether this is his intention or not. The combination of so many things lacking a common denominator - such as philosophy and religion, science and art, forms of conduct and mores, and finally the objective spirit of an age - in the single word 'culture' reveals from the outset the administrative view that, looking down from on high, assembles, divides up, evaluates and organizes all this." [5] Adorno's judgment is not only historically plausible (also because, unlike Simmel's overgeneralization, it enables an understanding of the concrete conditions of the realization of exclusivist-identitary formulations of the "cultural ideal"). It also draws attention to the political-institutional conditions of the constitution of a "cultural field" within the entirety of social organizational achievements, of which the distinct (and to this extent quasi-autonomous) functional logic is not to be confused with the construction of a real autonomy of "culture".

Particularly Tony Bennett's [6] work has posed the political function of this cultural field in the context of the specific modern techniques of government, for which Foucault coined the term "governmentality", and which are targeted to a social and political integration of the object of these techniques, namely the population, that is as capillary as possible. The institutional and symbolic apparatus of "culture", according to Bennett, is appended to the three elements, in the constellation of which Foucault saw the special imprint of the modern art of government: the population "as subject of needs and aspirations, but equally as object in the hands of the government" [7] (as primary target), the political economy (as primary form of knowledge) and the dispositives of security (as essential technical instrument). In this context, "culture" thus proves to be a concept of integration in a second sense, to the extent that its point is not only the subsumption and integration of various fields of activity under a "cultural ideal" related to humanity as a whole, but rather the linking of this first integration with a political-social integration targeted to the "forms of thought and conduct of extended populations" [8]. This in turn makes use of the first performance of integration - kept at the conceptual level - by identifying the totality of the population with the totality of certain forms of living and producing.

A consequence of this analysis is not only the ascertainment of the obvious inappropriateness of speaking of an autonomy (or of a "value" that is fixed in itself) of culture, but also, in the context in question here, primarily the necessity of not separating the discussion of a "European culture" or "European cultural policies" from its connection with other governmental techniques and especially not from its connection with the political conception of a "European" population. It is from this perspective that it first becomes possible to really assess the democratic political potential of a political arrangement of the field of culture at the EU level - aside from the undoubtedly desirable overcoming of the jealous constraints of nation-state cultural policies and the equally desirable support for non-commercial forms of exchange. And it is from this perspective that the question could be decided, whether and in which form a cultural article should be a component of a future European constitution.

In fact, the public debate about a "European culture", to the extent that it obviously touches on the question of the population, is usually conducted at two levels: on the one hand with reference to the "identity-founding" quality of "culture" and on the other in the context of discussions about the future - "final" - borders of the EU. In the following, I will refer primarily to the first level, because as the most recent debates about the possible EU membership of Turkey have shown, references at the second level to a European population run primarily along territorial demarcations (alongside vague assertions and counter-assertions about which countries "culturally" belong to Europe and which do not). Even though this obviously corresponds to the fundamental logic of the discourse on a "European culture", it also clearly foreshortens the question that has been raised here.

The reference to the identity-founding quality of culture, on the other hand, directly applies, at least within the framework of the dominant discourse, to the function of culture as an instrument of social and political integration. Thus the Decision of the European Parliament and the European Council on "Culture 2000" states in its reason section under point 2: "Culture is both an economic factor and a factor in social integration and citizenship." In an earlier article [9] I analyzed some of the implications of the way in which this integration is presented in more detail, so I will limit myself here to briefly listing some of the points:

1. the same text relates the integration of European citizens to the necessity of a "greater emphasis [...] on their common cultural values and roots as a key element of their identity and their membership of a society founded on freedom, democracy, tolerance and solidarity" (Point 5);
2. it relates this identity to "a cultural area common to the European people" (7, 8), to which the Community is "committed to working towards", and thus constructs a direct nexus between an area that is to be created politically and a cultural identity of Europeans that is presumed as given;
3. although it stresses that this area is to be "open" and "varied" (7), it limits this openness, by simultaneously defining it as "common to Europeans", to "contributing to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity (6; cf. also Art. 151, 1 of the Amsterdam Agreement);
4. finally, it determines the identity that is thus understood as inherently diversified with the reference to a "common cultural heritage" that is to be given "special attention" (6; cf. also Art. 151,1) or "promoted" (8).

This is not the place to analyze the complex and, in a number of points, circular structure of these moments (individually as well as in conjunction with one another), which results, not least of all, from the interweaving of the political foundation of a cultural program on the one hand and the foundation of a political community based on culture on the other. It should be stressed, however, that the statement of purpose section of the Decision on "Culture 2000", in comparison with the cultural article of the Amsterdam Agreement, not only expressly refers to the integrative role of culture, but also introduces the two central concepts of "identity" and of "a cultural area common to the European people". This not only reinforces the functional link between the cultural discourse and the discussion of the "borders of enlargement" (which by the way only became acute after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the event that forms the central precondition for the possible discursive link between the EU and "Europe" or a "European cultural identity"); most of all, it also explicitly inscribes the "cultural" diversity in Europe in an underlying common identity, thus increasingly fixing it to the national and regional diversity of the Member States. Symptomatically reflecting the general political stance of denial with regard to the realities of migration, the integration that is to "bring to life the cultural area common to the European people" (8) does not extend to those who can hardly be included in this identity, to the extent that it is additionally to be conveyed through "roots" and "heritage". When Article 1 f of the Decision nevertheless refers to a "fostering of intercultural dialogue", then it is only to bring into play a second model of cultural difference, which could be termed alterity: that of the difference between "European and non-European cultures".

The concretion of social integration through the instrument of "culture" leads here directly into the more general context of the governmental techniques that aim to mold a population, regardless of how disparate the imagination of this population and social reality may be. In this perspective, European cultural policies that entrust themselves to the guiding concepts of identity and common cultural area in a nation-state manner, seem to be at least indirect accomplices to a migration regime that knows of no other way to encounter the fact of social recompositions than through pressure to assimilate, police controls, the militarization of borders and economic cost-benefit calculations. However, the problem does not only affect issues of migration policies. It applies to the more general question that is addressed in the quotation from Deleuze that Kaufmann and Raunig place at the beginning of their paper, namely that of "the becoming of people": their becoming and becoming-European this side of any reducibility to an "inherited" or even a future being-European. The accent that the EU papers place on the common cultural heritage most clearly shows how far removed present cultural policy ideas are from this question. It evinces the feature of the concept of culture that Walter Benjamin described as "fetishist", and which also reveals itself in an altered form in the notion of population, to which this concept is related: " as an epitome of artifacts which are regarded, if not independently from the production process in which they were created, yet still independently of those in which they last." [10]

I would like to close with two short remarks. The first relates to a thesis formulated by Monika Mokre in her commentary on the text by Kaufmann and Raunig: "Cultural policies," she says, "are - not only, but to a substantial extent - identity policies. This applies equally to the national level and the supranational level." The point, therefore (instead of omitting the increasingly acute "question of identity" in the course of the "deepening and expansion of the European project"), is to "probe possibilities for how political identity can be conceived more positively, more dynamically and less exclusively than within the nation-state framework." The first part of Mokre's thesis, to the extent that it refers to the historical genesis of "cultural policies" under the conditions of the political modern era characterized by nation-states, may be apt. It is equally apt, as we have seen, that the "supranational" cultural policies of the European Union have identity-political features. Deriving specifications for all cultural policy discussions from this, however, is all the less tenable, as the "political identity" of the EU, since the discussion of it has become "acute", has not become "less exclusive", but rather the contrary: it has become more exclusive (even if "expandedly" exclusive). Merely exceeding the nation-state framework towards a supranational framework, whose political definition still follows the nation-state pattern, only means per se a re-establishment of the latter at a different level. One of the essential constitutional conditions of the "European project", however, both in terms of its present and (for good reasons) in keeping with its foundational impulse, is that it is carried out in difference to the political project of the nation-state. For this reason, it should be less a matter of probing the possibilities for reformulating political "identity" than the possibilities of this difference, concretely in the individual policy fields in fact.

My second remark, which is linked to the first, relates again to the "autonomy of culture" and, at the same time, the form assumed in Kaufmann and Raunig's paper by the aforementioned paradoxical gesture that demands of cultural policies promotion and non-instrumentalization at the same time. The authors of "Anticipating European Cultural Policies" speak of a "temporary autonomy" that they expressly identify as a "political concept of autonomy", relating it to initiatives, institutions and projects in the cultural field, rather than to "culture" (p. 18) The sense of this kind of temporary autonomy is not to be found in the rejection of instrumentalization, but rather in the demand and struggle for its temporary suspension - for the sake of a political transformation, that remains necessary for democratic politics. A political transformation which initially affects the cultural field itself, the plural public spheres described by Kaufmann and Raunig, forms of subjectification, and transversal transgressions that may arise in this field and break it open. Yet a political transformation that, for this very reason, also affects the relationships that the actors in the cultural field maintain with other fields of society, and thus ultimately the logic of distinction itself.

One possible concretization of a suspension of this kind could be - within the framework of the focus on the "preservation of cultural heritage" planned for 2004 - to set up a project track that is dedicated to a critical treatment of the heritage of the concept of culture, or even more: against this background, a critical experimental exploration of the social functions of the field of culture as a heritage of the political modern era. For cultural history, according to Walter Benjamin, "may well increase the burden of the treasures that are piled up on humanity's back. But it does not give mankind the strength to shake them off, so as to get its hands on them. " [11]


[1] Quoted from: W. Benjamin, "Eduard Fuchs, der Sammler und der Historiker", in: Gesammelte Schriften II, 2, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp 1991, 476.

[2] R. Williams, Keywords. A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, London: Fontana 1976.

[3] Cf. G. Bollenbeck, Tradition, Avantgarde, Reaktion. Deutsche Kontroversen um die kulturelle Moderne. 1880-1945, Frankfurt/M.: S. Fischer 1999, 16.

[4] G. Simmel, Philosophie des Geldes, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot 1900, 476 f.

[5] Th. W. Adorno, "Kultur und Verwaltung", in: Soziologische Schriften I, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp 1979, 122.

[6] Cf. especially. T. Bennett, Culture. A Reformer's Science, London / Thousand Oaks / New Delhi: Sage 1998.

[7] M. Foucault, "Die ,Gouvernementalität'", in: U. Bröckling / S. Krasmann / Th. Lemke, Gouvernementalität der Gegenwart, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp 2000, 61.

[8] T. Bennett, "Putting Policy into Cultural Studies", in: L. Grossberg / C. Nelson / P. Treichler, Cultural Studies, New York / London: Routledge 1992, 26.

[9] S. Nowotny, "Ethnos or Demos? Ideological implications within the discourse on `European culture'", http://www.eipcp.net/diskurs/d01/text/sn02.html.

[10] W. Benjamin, "Eduard Fuchs, der Sammler und der Historiker", op.cit., 477.

[11] ibid., 478.