Comparative Cultural Policy

  • Monica Gattinger (Editor) and Diane Saint-Pierre (Editor)
    Les Politiques culturelles provinciales et territoriales du Canada: Origines, évolutions et mises en œuvre. Presses de l'Université Laval (purchase at
Reviewed by Jonathan Paquette

This collected edition is the result of a vast collaborative research effort on comparative cultural policy. After a rich comparative research program led to a series of publications on national cultural policies that were well-received by their French-speaking audiences in Canada and abroad, Monica Gattinger and Diane Saint-Pierre decided to further their work and collaborations in comparative cultural policy to address the question of provincial cultural policy in Canada in all its diversity. There is no doubt that cultural policy researchers in Canada will find this edition to be one of the most significant and sorely needed contributions to the field in recent years.

In terms of theoretical considerations, this collected edition finds its roots in a number of questions that both Gattinger and Saint-Pierre have raised through their academic publications on the heuristic potential and/or limitations of comparative research on sub-national governments (provinces, states, regions, etc.). These sub-national considerations are important given that most models or archetypes of reference are based on national experiences. The last chapter of this book, in particular, furthers this reflection by opening discussion on strategies for a comparative research program at the sub-national level. Building on an overview of the most salient features of each chapter, as well as on their discussions and exchanges with their collaborators, Gattinger and Saint-Pierre point out a number of variables or dimensions that a comparative (infra/sub) national research programme should comprise: history, political culture, relationships between national and sub-national governments, demography, geography, as well as the rationale and conception of culture entertained by each province.

While there are a number of interesting insights put forward for comparative research in this edition, both authors might come across as being overly cautious. For instance, the limitations of the applicability of national archetypes to sub-national contexts has not benefited from a more comprehensive discussion, leaving the task of theorizing and aggregating patterns for sub-national archetype construction entirely open. Such in-depth discussion could have addressed the problematical identity of the hybrid category of cultural policy that is defined as building from French, American, and British national models. As both authors of this conclusive chapter observe, most provincial cultural policy tends to fit the definition of a hybrid cultural policy. It is, in my opinion, very clear that this contribution will fuel a number of debates that will guide discussions and research agendas within the comparative cultural policy research community.

While this work must be credited for the theoretical debate it brings to our awareness, the greater value of this work lies in its systematic treatment of each Canadian province’s cultural policy. Each province is approached as a case study, and each case study benefits from in-depth coverage based on a tri-dimensional analytical structure focusing on history, cultural administration, and cultural policy. The editors of this collected edition must be applauded for this decision as it gives weight to their contribution. As the logic of case studies command, the different historical and cultural specificity of each province is given equal voice. In doing so, the editors have avoided the temptation of amalgamating provinces into artificial and, at times, questionable regional ensembles (e.g., the Prairies, Atlantic Canada, etc.). This renders the collected edition all the more useful for instructors, students, cultural administrators, and the many researchers or advocates gravitating in the sphere of cultural policy research. Gattinger’s chapter, for instance, represents perhaps the single greatest effort to date of providing a systematic treatment of Ontario’s cultural policy. In addition to the individual chapters on the Canadian provinces, a chapter on the Canadian North and a chapter on cultural statistics in Canada complete this collected edition. This collected edition is already a well-cited reference in the field of cultural policy, and there is no doubt that its English translation, scheduled to be published by the University of Toronto Press, will only strengthen its popularity and referential value.

This review “Comparative Cultural Policy” originally appeared in Of Borders and Bioregions. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 218 (Autumn 2013): 160-61.

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