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When Cultural Policies Change

Comparing Mexico and Argentina


Elodie Bordat-Chauvin

How can change in cultural Policy be explained? Through a comparative and historical analysis, this research sheds new light on the emergence, institutionalization and transformation of the cultural policies of two major Latin American countries: Mexico and Argentina.
Elodie Bordat-Chauvin’s investigation is based on the material gathered in ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2008 and 2010. It gathers observations, unique archive material and more than ninety semi-directive interviews with the majority of Secretaries of Culture in office between 1983 and 2010, several intellectuals, interest groups leaders, cultural managers and members of unions who all played a role in these countries’ cultural policies in the last thirty years.
This work challenges the common assertions that Mexican cultural policy is characterized by inertia and Argentinean cultural policy by instability. It analyses factors of changes – such as the neo-liberal turn, transnationalization, decentralization and politico-institutional changes – and their consequences – including reductions in cultural budgets, transformations in cultural industries and modifications in the balance of power between national, subnational, public and private actors.
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“You’re working on cultural policies in Mexico and Argentina? But there aren’t any cultural policies there!”. We have heard this phrase uttered by Mexicans, Argentinians or anyone remotedly connected with Mexico or Argentina dozens of times. In Mexico, this statement is part of a way of thinking which considers that in the cultural sphere, public organizations act only through inertia. In Argentina, this comment is based on the twofold belief that the authorities are not interested in this sector to which a derisory budget is allocated and that institutional instability prevents the development of real cultural policies. However, the large number of studies produced on these policies since the 1970s contradicts these assertions. Did Argentinian and Mexican cultural policies therefore lose their essence between this period and the time of our investigation? Might they have changed ? In order to answer these questions, let us look at the characteristics of cultural policies and the way of studying them.

How can cultural policies be understood?

Several works define cultural policies by stressing what they are not. Guy Saez thus writes that a cultural policy is more than the total amount of cultural action in the artistic and literary sectors1. It is “a temporary agreement on a social definition of culture, its role for society and the individuals composing it, just as it is a will to act on this object”2. For his part, Philippe Urfalino makes a distinction between cultural policy and cultural policies. Cultural...

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