Cultural Democracy: An Ecological and Capabilities Approach

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In recent years there has been sustained critique of the conceptual and normative foundations of UK cultural policy - the paternalism of ‘excellence and access’ and the neoliberal logic of ‘creative industries’. Whilst these critiques are well-established, there is little work offering alternative foundations. This paper makes a contribution to this task. It does so in three ways. Firstly, by identifying ‘cultural democracy’ as a key discourse offering a counter-formulation of what the aims of cultural policy could and should be, and analysing uses of this term, it highlights the need to more effectively conceptualize cultural opportunity. Secondly, drawing on research with one UK-based initiative, Get Creative, the paper identifies a particularly consequential aspect of cultural opportunity: its ecological nature. Thirdly, it shows that the capabilities approach to human development provides ideas with the potential to help build new conceptual and normative foundations for cultural policy. Proposing a distinctive account of cultural democracy characterised by systemic support for cultural capabilities, the paper concludes by indicating the implications this may have for research, policy and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages38
JournalInternational journal of cultural policy
Issue number3
Early online date29 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Capabilities approach
  • cultural democracy
  • cultural ecosystems
  • creative industries
  • participation


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