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What are cultural industries?

This video discusses the main theoretical debates surrounding the notion of cultural industries and explains how it emerged in the European discourse
Culture is generally associated with the privileged sphere of human activity, one that is free from the physical conditions and where human imagination experiments with the liberty of self-expression. Since the 18th century, though, culture has gradually become a dimension directly linked to economic activity and has stopped being a field of freedom. Nowadays, the market increasingly stands between artists and their public. And culture is seen as a resource for economic investments, business, and industry developments. A range of private and civic institutions have grown out of this new conception of culture– newspapers, books and journals, political and religious groups, scientific institutions, intellectual societies, clubs, and galleries.
Culture has become the essence of a new public sphere between the state and the individual, on which, over the last 250 years, contestation and legitimisation of political and socioeconomic power have been based. In the production of objects, text, images, sounds, and experiences that have a strong symbolic dimension, cultural work is the field of wider political projects. For this reason, people like Theodor Adorno and more recently Pierre Bourdieu affirm that culture is a tool in the hands of the ruling class and the state. On the opposite side, intellectuals such as those from the Birmingham Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies argue that cultural activities developing around music, leisure, clothes, consumer objects can also become active forms of symbolic resistance.
Thus, what about public policies and cultural industries? Public policies and cultural industries began to intensify in the 1970s, when alongside the discussion on the Gatt agreements, states became aware of the fact that cultural industries needed to be protected as part of a national cultural policy. In the late 1990s, the New Labour Party in the UK promoted a new notion of creative industries as a new trend in cultural policy, which integrated, in their view, digital technologies and the new conception of knowledge economy. They define creative industries as those which have their origin in individual creativity, skill, and talent, and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.
Today, cultural policies distinguish between different levels. For EU policies, for example, the cultural sector is divided into three concentric areas– core arts, cultural industries, creative industries. Amongst these, public policies are targeting in particular the second level, which is aimed to massive audience and where copyright is very important. Thus, European and national policies are concentrating on issues of intellectual property and in regulating competitiveness in this sector. In conclusion, today, cultural industries are increasingly seen through the lenses of competition, innovation, and managerial efficiency for their impact on employment, tourism, and on other profit-related activities.

The notion of cultural industries derives from the rising importance of the market in the cultural field.

This video introduces the academic debate on the political role of culture, with two opposing stances: On the one hand, Theodor Adorno and Pierre Bourdieu view culture as a tool of the ruling class. On the other hand, Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall view popular culture as symbolic resistance.

In the 1990s, the UK Department of Culture Media and Sports came up with an influential definition of creative industries, as the exploitation of individual creativity for generating wealth and jobs. The European Union also appropriated this term and identified three fields for its cultural policy: core arts, cultural industries and creative industries.

The video introduces a concentric model to classify cultural and creative sectors:

  • Core arts: Visual arts, performing arts and heritage
  • Cultural industries: Film, television, radio, music, books and press
  • Creative industries: Design, architecture and advertising

Share your thoughts!

Following on the predicaments of the Birmingham School, can you think of some cultural expression, or some artists, that illustrate the power of culture to contest the ruling classes?

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Cultures and Identities in Europe

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