Paper: Instrumental Visions: Neoliberalism, Institutions and Cultural Policy in the Middle East, Westminster University, 21 April, 2017

21 April 2017

Museum of Islamic Arts, Doha, Qatar. Copyright: Andrea Seemann/Shutterstock

Museum of Islamic Arts, Doha, Qatar. Copyright: Andrea Seemann/Shutterstock


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Paper Précis

Instrumental Visions: Neoliberalism, Cultural Institutions and Cultural Policy in the Middle East

Neoliberalism, in conjunction with the policies that enable its ascendancy, co-opts cultural institutions into the realm of a decidedly politicized, and ultimately privatized, ethic of production, exchange, and consumption. Increasingly, and nowhere more so than in an age of deregulation, real estate speculation, cultural expansionism, labour exploitation, financial speculation, and capital accumulation, institutions in the Middle East have become defined by these policies. The manifestation of a neoliberal ethos can be readily seen, to take but some of the more pertinent examples, in the instrumentalist models of promotion, marketing, merchandising, entrepreneurship, sponsorship, community-based programmes, educational courses, and corporate expansionism that underwrite these institutions. In the UAE, specifically, but also in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and Turkey, cultural policy seems preoccupied with statist forms of centralised management that have, moreover, largely resulted in the building of sepulchral testaments to the expansionist cultural policies of western institutions.

The ongoing manifestation of so-called “mega-museums”, alongside government-prescribed forms of “soft power” and the privatization of culture, have not only affected the future evolution of cultural institutions in the Middle East but have also predetermined what forms cultural production can assume under the rationalizing ethos of institutionalized neoliberalism. These activities foreground a fundamental concern: does neoliberalism, in these contexts, predicate cultural forms that answer to (rather than oppose) the political and economic agendas that underwrite cultural policies in the region? If we accept that neoliberalism invariably reduces institutions and cultural policies to the divisive imperatives of economic reasoning and political didacticism, can art as a practice critically respond to and inform the development of cultural policy in the region? Who, moreover, benefits from the work of art in the region? What, moreover, can the neoliberal politics of cultural production and cultural policy in the region tell us about the politics of global cultural policies regarding arts institutions and art practice in the early part of the 21st century?