Guest post: Andrew Miles – Understanding Everyday Participation:Towards a more democratic approach to Cultural Value?


Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Values, Connected Communities Programme

This week we have the first of our guest posts: Andrew Miles, University of Manchester, introduces one of the large research projects funded under the Connected Communities Programme. Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Values, which is the project in question, addresses a host of issues of great interest to the Cultural Value Project; most notably, it speaks to our desire to be sensitive to the fact that cultural value is socially negotiated and institutionally framed. Promising as it does to shed light on how understanding everyday participation gives us an insight into how value attachments are formed, the empirically-informed research of the UEP project will no doubt be extremely helpful to our thinking on the Cultural Value Project.    


 What does it mean to participate in culture? Why are some activities seen as culturally valuable and others not? How does cultural participation inform issues of personal, social and community identity? In what ways are understandings of spaces, places and so-called ‘creative economies’ rendered through participation?

These are the core questions being addressed by the ‘Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Values’ (UEP) project. UEP is a five-year research project that began in 2012 and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of its Connected Communities programme, with further investment provided by Creative Scotland. A collaboration between the Universities of Manchester, Leicester, Exeter and Warwick, it brings together an 11-strong team of experts from History, Sociology, Museum Studies, English, Drama and Cultural Policy Studies, supported by a group of 16 national and local partner organisations spanning the cultural and third sectors.

UEP starts from the proposition that the relationship between participation and value needs radically rethinking. Orthodox models of cultural engagement are based on a narrow definition of participation, one that focuses on the ‘high’ arts and traditional cultural institutions but which, in the process, neglects the significance of more informal hobbies, pastimes and other, ostensibly mundane, day-to-day activities. Our work sets out to explore the value of such everyday cultural practices through a five-part programme of interdisciplinary, mixed-methods research.

Reflecting a particular concern with the ‘situated’ nature of participation, the empirical core of the project focuses on a set of six case study areas, or ‘cultural ecosystems’. These are Manchester-Salford, Aberdeen, Gateshead, Dartmoor, Peterborough and Stornoway; locations chosen for their contrasting profiles in official statistics for levels of participation and investment in formal cultural activities. On one side, these local studies are being contextualised by new historical research on participation and value and by the reanalysis of existing survey data offering new perspectives on time use and the spatial dimensions of participation. On the other side, we are examining the policy applications of the case study findings in partner-led projects on local participation issues and by reviewing how the processes of partnership working across the project might inform dialogue across different communities of practice (research, policy, production) in the cultural sector.

Our work on the ground in the case study locations is predominantly inductive. We are not pre-determining what constitutes cultural participation but looking to identify key domains and emergent themes in each setting. To enable this approach, we are deploying a suite of, mostly, qualitative methods, which can offer different but complementary perspectives on how people and groups come into participation and what is at stake in this process. These methods include two waves of in-depth interviews with a representative sample of local residents, ethnography, social network analysis, community focus groups, local histories and cultural assets mapping. Currently, we are nearing completion of the Manchester-Salford case study, which has focused on the ethnically mixed and economically deprived wards of Cheetham Hill and Broughton, while work in a urban village community on the edge of Aberdeen and on a central corridor of Gateshead adjacent to the city’s formal cultural amenities is well advanced.

The data being produced in these locations are phenomenally rich and these are still early days in terms of moving towards worked up findings. In Cheetham and Broughton the ethnographic work has identified the particular importance of parks and open spaces as cultural resources, partly because they provide neutral, liminal ground for participation in areas defined by cohesive but in many respects mutually exclusive communities. In the Aberdeen case study the ways in which participation is mediated by changing working patterns and the importance of club life and volunteering in sustaining a sense local identity in the midst of economic, physical and cultural transformation have come to the fore. Initial readings of the in-depth interviews – the first wave of which focuses on people’s life histories and participation narratives, together with issues of identity and belonging – emphasise the sheer diversity of people’s participation practices, along with the cultural resonances of their social activities. Bearing out previous work carried out by UEP team members, they are also indicating the remoteness of the formal cultural sphere to the lives of the great majority, for whom ‘the arts’, at least in an institutional sense, hold little if any interest.

This last theme will be of particular interest to the Cultural Value project because it calls into question the privileging of traditional cultural forms and venues of the kind funded by government bodies.  In an earlier post on this site, Geoff Crossick suggested that by placing too much emphasis on participation in the everyday sphere we run the risk of neglecting the consequences of unequal access to the arts in divided societies. Given the association between the possession of established cultural capital and life chances in societies such as our own in the UK (Bennett et al 2009, Scherger and Savage 2010), this is a legitimate concern. Equally, however, this is a position that is unlikely to disturb the status quo, since it fails to challenge the role that existing hierarchies of cultural value play in shaping and reproducing the wider system of inequality in the first place (Bourdieu 1984).

A narrow focus on the importance of the conventional canon in cultural policy obscures the contested and divisive nature of the cultural field and the way in which ideas of cultural value are socially constructed. Policies that prioritise access to the arts in the name of social inclusion are at the same time part of a process of discrimination, marking out social boundaries according to establishment norms and understandings of what is to count as ‘legitimate’ culture (Miles 2013). By taking an empirically grounded, methodologically diverse approach to revealing those practices (and practitioners) marginalised in this process, the UEP project is attempting to develop a more democratic understanding of cultural participation and its values.

For more information about the Understanding Everyday Participation project, go to


Bennett, T., Savage, M., Silva, E., Warde, A., Gayo-Cal, M. and Wright, D. (2009), Culture, Class, Distinction, London: Routledge

Bourdieu, P. (1984), Distinction. A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

Miles, A. (2013), ‘Culture, participation and identity in contemporary Manchester’, in Savage, M., Wolff, J. and Savage, M. (eds), Culture in Manchester: Institutions and Urban Change since 1800, Manchester: Manchester University Press

Scherger, S. and Savage, M. (2010), ‘Cultural transmission, educational attainment and social mobility’, The Sociological Review, 53:3


Cultural Value Project: Looking back at the past developments and looking forward to the future

Last week’s entry brought to an end our showcase of the awardholders funded under the Open Funding Call. This seems like a good opportunity to pause and reflect on the past developments in the Cultural Value Project, and to take a quick peek into the future.

Many of you would know (for instance from this entry posted on this forum last October) that, following the first call, we issued a Targeted Funding Call. As we explained at the time, the objective of the second call was to cement our framework and hence, we wanted to attract research in a number of clearly defined areas. (You can find the details of the projects funded here). The Critical Reviews and Research Development Awards funded under this second call are now nearing completion and we will be introducing these projects on this blog latter this year.

There were also a number of workshops supported under the second funding round where we invited academics to run small-group discussions to explore some key issues of relevance to the Cultural Value Project: from cultural value in the domestic setting, to the importance of the arts in the criminal justice system, to voluntary and participatory arts. The work has now been completed on the seven Expert Workshops – please do take your time to read the reports from these workshops available here.

As I mentioned, our plan is to start showcasing the Critical Reviews and Research Development Awards funded under the Targeted Call later this year. In the meantime, we would like to introduce you to other AHRC-funded projects which tackle the thorny topic of cultural value. It is clear that we are not operating in a vacuum. Take for instance, the cross-council Connected Communities programme or the AHRC themes such as Science in Culture or Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past – a number of synergies, parallels and some interesting orthogonal considerations are readily apparent from the scope of these initiatives. In the weeks to come, we would like to introduce a number of contributors working on these projects and themes who can tell us more about their research and the way in which it approaches the question of cultural value from diverse, yet complementary, perspectives. Watch this space.

This conversation with other projects speaking to the central concerns of the Cultural Value Project will be invaluable for us as we are moving slowly but steadily towards the consolidation of our findings in the Final Report. The Report, initially expected to come out in the spring of 2015, will now be published in the later part of 2015, following the maternity leave of the Project Researcher. The Project will continue during that period, albeit in a lower key, and this will not affect this blog and entries will be appearing fortnightly throughout the entire period.

You can always find out more about the individual projects supported by the Cultural Value Project by visiting their external websites, blogs and tweeter feeds or reading the summaries available here.

Marie Gillespie – Understanding the Changing Cultural Value of the BBC World Service and British Council

This project investigated the changing cultural value of the BBC World Service (WS) and the British Council (BC) and how their cultural value can be assessed and measured.

For eight decades, these organisations have been the face and voice of Britain overseas. Our research found that their attraction and influence abroad remains strong, but is on the wane, reflecting the UK’s declining economic and political significance on the world stage.

Building on prior research on these organisations as well as new historical, ethnographic and digital research, we developed an innovative, theoretically grounded and empirically informed Cultural Value Model (CVM).

This is a device for conceptualising, analysing and assessing value in a multidimensional, composite, visual way. The CVM can be used for planning, monitoring and evaluating specific projects as well as organisations over time. It can be used alongside existing performance indicators and impact measures. We have worked closely with our partners at the development stage and currently we are testing it on further cultural value projects at WS, BC and the Swedish Institute.

Our research and the design of our Cultural Value Model (CVM) developed iteratively alongside our findings on several key aspects of continuity and change at WS and BC:

First, the relative editorial, creative and operational autonomy of BC and WS from government control has lent their activities credibility and authority, and enabled them to forge a consistent ethic of practice that has guided generations of WS and BC professionals through political crises, wars, turmoil and tragedy. This professional ethos and its associated organisational memory, transmitted across generations, have been vital to the establishment of an enduring trusted and credible presence around the world. Trust is a product of the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of their operations:

Second, over the last eight decades, the funding and focus of WS and BC have shifted according to strategic, market and technological imperatives. The strategic context has shifted from Imperial to Post-Imperial, from Second World War to Cold War. BBC Language Services (currently 27) are opened and closed, grown or shrunk in accordance with strategic agendas and since 2001 and the ‘War on Terror’ there has been a shift in funding and focus to the Middle East. The market context also shifts. WS and BC used to have a strong presence in countries with underdeveloped markets in broadcasting or in English Language Teaching (the main source of income for the BC, on which their Cultural, Arts and Scientific activities hinge). They now operate in much more competitive markets and have to calibrate their operations accordingly. Similarly, technological innovation reframes value. For WS, shifts from Short Wave to FM, then the rise of TV as the primary source of news, alongside developments in web-based interactive technologies and social media, demand new vocabularies of value and methods for assessing success or failure which we have sought to open up.

The findings of our Twitter and Facebook case studies can be found at:

Third, the cosmopolitan cultural value of BC and WS is enshrined in the capacities of their staff to travel and translate (literally and symbolically) across national and ethnic, cultural and linguistic borders, as well as to dwell inside the cultures in which they operate. This dwelling and travelling was, at first, made possible because of the global network of imperial diplomats, military, civil service, entrepreneurs, as well as journalists, fixers, translators at the ‘peripheries’. Staff overseas and at the metropolitan centre worked closely together, in asymmetric power relations. This imperial infrastructure facilitated the emergence of a colonial style cosmopolitan ethos and professional practices, which formed the basis of the global influence of WS and BC – at least until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Fourth, the “national interest” is a loose and infinitely adaptable concept and necessarily so as it shifts in line with internal as well as external pressures. Paradoxically perhaps it is served by the cosmopolitan cultural value of BC and WS. Even if there is a unresolvable tension between the national and the cosmopolitan dimensions of their work (e.g. a love-hate relationship between the BBC and Middle East audiences it remains a significant reference point in confirming news).

Fifth, these organisations project, promote, represent values that Britain seeks to uphold: freedom of speech, the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, the rights of individual citizens. They enable the UK to present itself and its policies, lifestyle, culture, economy and polity in a favourable light. This is their soft power effect. Soft power is rarely achieved by crude propaganda or marketing and WS and BC recognised this from their inception. They sought to attract overseas publics to British institutions (broadcasting, education, law) by exemplifying certain admirable principles in their practices. In so doing they invited and encouraged emulation. This has been a key animating source of the soft power of BC and WS. But such cultural value cannot be assessed in instrumental terms.

Finally, our collaborative research and analyses underscore the co-dependencies of instrumental and intrinsic value. These organisations deploy the intrinsic value of the cultural experiences they offer in order to ‘also’ achieve instrumental ends. Visits to the BC’s libraries, exhibitions, events; new worlds opened up by learning English; the conversational value of listening to WS news bulletins; the aesthetic pleasures of the human voice; the cultural and arts programming that brought overseas publics closer to the UK; such work has attracted people to study, work, play and invest in the UK and has forged cosmopolitan cultural territories. The enduring significance of WS and BC lies in this rather subtle approach to communicating with overseas publics in idioms which they could understand and appreciate, while at the same time keeping funders satisfied, and making those who work for WS and BC proud to do so because of the international prestige that accompanied their jobs. Our CVM seeks to capture and assess these different dimensions of value in a practical, accessible but culturally sensitive way. If you wish to adopt, adapt and use it – just get in touch.

This collaborative project involved over ten researchers and was co-directed by Simon Bell, Professor of Methodology and Innovation at The Open University. (Contact: For full details see Final Report for AHRC on our project website – details above.

Marie Gillespie│Professor of Sociology│The Open University│Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA│Co-Director, Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change ││ Mob: 07769 184253

Nick Ewbank – Cultural Value and Social Capital: Investigating Social, Health and Wellbeing Impacts in Three Coastal Towns Undergoing Culture-led Regeneration

For our contribution to the Cultural Value project, the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health and cultural regeneration consultancy Nick Ewbank Associates carried out research in three coastal towns where there has been significant investment in culture-led regeneration in recent years, focusing on the impacts of Turner Contemporary in Margate, the Creative Foundation in Folkestone and the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea.

We adopted a mixed-methods participatory action research approach, using mind-mapping, vox pops and focus group discussions with around 300 public participants. We also carried our sixteen in-depth interviews with politicians, cultural leaders, academics, funders and public health experts.

The resulting report, ‘Cultural Value and Social Capital’, found that, despite an intuitive feeling that there is a “connection between cultural activity and feeling good”, health and wellbeing is not currently prioritised as a driver of either programming or outcomes. 

The three organisations were found to make a “significant, but at present largely undefined, contribution to social capital and to delivering health and wellbeing in their respective communities”, but outside the specialist field of arts in health practice “this important aspect of cultural value is currently hidden”. 

Des Crilley, Chair of Kent County Council’s Strategic Group for Arts in Kent, is quoted in the report as saying: “I don’t think arts and cultural organisations are able to define the impact they are able to make. They don’t trace it and make it visible. It drives me mad! They change someone’s life and they don’t even realise.”


Report Lauch, 16 July 2014. Panel members (Left to Right) Prof Stephen Clift, Helen Goodman MP, Deborah Bull, Sir Peter Bazalgette

Photo Stephanie Mills

Photo Stephanie Mills

We launched the report at a reception at the House of Commons on 16 July 2014. This event included a panel discussion with Prof Stephen Clift (Principal Investigator), Deborah Bull (Culture at King’s, Warwick Commission and AHRC Board), Sir Peter Bazalgette (Chair of Arts Council England) and Helen Goodman MP (Shadow Culture Minister). During the debate Sir Peter said “Fifty percent of local authorities are considering deploying health budget in the arts … it’s about the intrinsic value of the arts first, but to blind yourself to what the [economic and health] benefits are is ludicrous”.


Both Sir Peter and Helen Goodman MP, used the event to call for the health and social benefits of the arts to be systematised, with appropriate funding and measurement tools put in place.

Deborah Bull called for a “progressive research agenda” able to take the long view and not driven by the calls of different “flip-flopping” governments. She added that this will require the higher education sector and the research community to work very closely with the cultural sector.

The report proposes the introduction of guidelines with models of best practice, an idea supported by the three organisations involved in the project, who also said they would “welcome the introduction of simple-to-use evaluation tools that might shed light on levels of wellbeing generated by their everyday activities”. The report also suggests that cultural organisations should do more research into barriers to public engagement with their work, and give more consideration to programming and commissions aimed at “addressing specific health and social issues”.

Both the report and a short film of the House of Commons launch event can be viewed at

Or at