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Book Reviews

A Handbook of Cultural Economics

by Ruth Towse

reviewed by Josh Heuman

Every day, with heroic pluck and determination, media managers and scholars face all kinds of difficult challenges. None of these challenges, however, begins to approach the herculean labors of the handbook editor and contributors. Ruth Towses A Handbook of Cultural Economics demonstrates many of the advantages of the handbook form: It offers a panoramic view of the field, it accrues the considerable authority of its many voices, and it can claim a natural resting place on the library reference shelves. However, more pointedly, it also reveals the limitations of that form: Without a strong principle of organization, its panoramic perspective sometimes drifts toward fragmentation and even incoherence, many of its voices lose some of their authority in trying to compress a very large corner of the field into a very brief summary, and its good fit on the reference shelves does not guarantee its usefulness for readers. All together, it succeeds only partially as a survey of the field and presents something less than an essential resource for media managers and scholars. Along with a brief editorial introduction, A Handbook of Cultural Economics comprises 61 entries, arranged alphabetically from Anthropology of Art to Welfare Economics. Most entries are written by European academics, although others come from the field of policy and the art worlds themselves and some from outside of Europe. The entries spread more or less evenly over topics in the fine and performing arts, in the heritage industries, and in the media and cultural industries. Some entries address specific forms and media (Ballet, Opera, Television), others broader problems or players in the field (Awards, Nonprofit organizations, Tax concessions), and others more theoretical questions (Baumols cost disease, Contingent valuation, Value of culture). Several longer entries run more than a dozen pages; several shorter ones run less than a few pages. Most essays lean toward abstraction and theorization of their topic, although many remain more closely tied to a practical context. Already in its form and orientation, there are difficulties here. First, the Handbooks 61 alphabetical entries tend to leave the reader feeling as if the forest has been lost for the trees. Apart from Towses all too brief introduction, there is very little concern to define and situate the field of cultural economics. If a handbook should work as a kind of guidebook, the visitor (or resident) of that field
The International Journal on Media Management, 6(3&4), 255256

might like a more substantial sense of the lay of the land rather than only a discontinuous procession of landmarks with no connections between them except for cross-references at the end. Cultural economics develops through a particular history, it finds a home in particular institutions, it defines itself with reference to particular problems and problematizations, and it orients itself with and against particular scholarship in other disciplines. These questions receive insufficient attention in the Handbook, which would be much stronger with an introductory section of essays to contextualize the field. Furthermore, if there is not much attention to the big picture, the little pictures of the 61 entries might be arranged more harmoniously. Why allot separate entries for Cinema and Motion Pictures? Why separate Digitalization and Internet culture? Why not allow for much closer connections (and even conversations) among those entries, ones on Broadcasting, Television, and so on? In contrast, like its sibling volumes in a series from BFI, Hilmess (2003) The Television History Book comprises six themed sections (each with its own scene-setting introduction), each in turn comprising a half dozen or so short essays, most with short sidebars to pursue some questions further. The difference between the two volumes is more than cosmetic; forms of discourse structure knowledge in important ways. In The Television History Book, trees of knowledge grow higher in growing together, building on shared foundations (for only the most banal example, in saying more in fewer words); in many ways, the Handbook seems to frustrate rather than flatter knowledge of cultural economics, sometimes falling into redundancy and often losing opportunities for more depth of analysis across entries. In their sometimes extreme compression, individual entries do not allow for very much depth of analysis. Entries such as Digitalization offer pleasant surprises in going as far as they doin that case, moving in only a few pages from a broad and airy conceptual background to an informed and intelligent discussion of arguments over technologies for digital rights management. However, even such a strong entry lacks the depth and currency of a developed newspaper article. What is even more troubling is how constraints of space tend to push practical application and concrete context off the table in favor of more theoretical and abstract economic analysis. Sometimes this perspective helps

clarify the topic at hand; Digitalization helpfully depoliticizes some of the more overwrought discussion of digital rights management. More often, however, although it is perhaps more of an indictment of the field of economics than this handbook, such lack of careful attention to context carries unfortunate consequences. In Music business, for example, we learn that apart from exceptional instances when the Majors overlook the consumer appeal of a new creative artist, by and large new and smaller record companies are only able to compete for artists rejected by dominant record companies (323). It is an understatement to say that this generalization might be complicated by further empirical analysissuch narrowly economic understanding of the business almost wholly neglects the very complicated relations between independents and majors (as in major-label flexibilizing practices of enlisting independents as boutique partners in pressing and distribution deals, explored much more fully in the geographic literature on postfordist production). Similarly, Anthropology of Art mentions in passing how anthropology can dignify the lives of people by illustrating the artistry in daily life (p. 18). Within the terms of anthropological arguments about relations between subjects and objects of knowledge, this is a very contentiously phrased claimdoes the folk artist have no dignity until the arrival of the anthropologist? In a few more pages, this difficulty might have been explored or at least acknowledged; instead, important questions of context fall off the table. In one last example, Globalization dismisses almost cavalierly cultural nationalist arguments against free-trade liberalism. Whatever the merits of cultural protectionism, it is a credible enough position to be taken more seriously. Adding insult to injury, perhaps, the authors full length study of cultural trade disputes gives a much more careful and nuanced account of the issues in play; again, compression becomes the enemy of depth in the handbook, and often what is lost first are those perspectives that would draw attention to what is beyond the narrow bounds of economic theory. There are of course happy exceptions to this rule. The entry on Dealers in art recalls the close reading of concrete cultural forms that characterizes the best sociology of culturealthough it only whets the appetite for the authors more extended work on the topic. Similarly, Cultural tourism convincingly seasons narrowly economic analysis with historical and critical approaches. Sadly, entries such as these remain the exception, and in the end, it is questionable whether a handbook such as this is the best way to approach and explore the field of cultural economics. Whats more, it is also questionable whether cultural economics as presented here is the best way to explore the economics of culture and especially, the economics of the mass media. This is a book that is useful on the library reference shelf; unlike Vogels (2004) Entertainment Industry Economics and Albarrans (2002) Media Economics: Understanding Markets, Industries, and Concepts. How256

ever, it is less useful in the media managers office, unlike Cowens (1997) In Praise of Commercial Culture or Cavess (2000) Creative Industries: Contracts Between Art and Commerce; it is no good on the beach; and unlike Beckers (1982) Art Worlds or Bourdieus (1994) The Field of Cultural Production, it is no good behind the barricades. Although perhaps it is unfair to expect it to be something different than it is, it is not wrong to hope for something more.

Albarran, A. (2002). Media economics: Understanding markets, industries, and concepts (2nd ed.). Ames: Iowa State University Press. Becker, H. (1982). Art worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press. Bourdieu, P. (1994). The field of cultural production (R. Nice, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press. Caves, R.(2000). Creative industries: Contracts between art and commerce. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Cowen, T. (1997). In praise of commercial culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Hilmes, M. (2004). The Televison History Book. London: BFI. Vogel, H. (2004). Entertainment industry economics: A guide for financial analysis (6th ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Rating Criteria Theoretical Approach/Methodology Structure Depth of the Analysis Contribution of New Knowledge Applicability Clarity and Style of Writing Rating Points: excellent:+++++ poor: + Rating +++ + ++ ++ ++ ++++

Edward Elgar, 2003 494 pages ISBN 1840643382

Review Author
Josh Heuman University of Calgary, Canada
Book Reviews