George Yúdice, The Expediency of Culture.

Citation: George Yúdice. The Expediency of Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.


Culture has become expedient in that it is used to enact social and economic policies, some of which Yudice posits is an effect of globalization, but certainly reflected in policies of the World Bank, IMF, and Intra-Americas Development Bank (IADB).

Scope/Organization/Main Points: 

He writes, “Although there have long been art therapy programs for the mentally ill and for the incarcerated, culture more generally was not regarded as a proper therapy for such social dysfunctions as racism and genocide. Nor was it considered, historically, an incentive for economic growth. Why the turn to a legitimation based on utility” (11)? One answer is globalization and the US competing internationally. As with Brouillette’s work, he notes that culture serves to “lend a hand in the reduction of expenditures and at the same time help maintain the level of state intervention for the stability of capitalism” (12).

In the 1980s, as with Renalto Rosaldo’s “cultural citizenship,” saw it that “groups of people bound together by shared social, cultural, and / or physical features should not be excluded in the public spheres of a given polity on the basis of those features” (22), relating to how we talk about multiculturalism. Anthropology’s role in positing culture as an “alternative to domination” and supporting “cultural policy” as both “emancipation” and “regulation” (24).

His discussion of culture might seem as if he’s interested in disenfranchised group vying for recognition (Indigenous peoples, people of colour). However, citing town hall meetings that demand funding for arts as economically important, Yudice writes, “It would indeed be cynical to signal out identity politics as an aberration when the expediency of culture is so obviously a feature of contemporary life” (26), suggesting that culture is a feature that articulates with multiple forms of sociality and citizenship.

The 1990s saw global attention turning to culture as sustaining cohesive communities and supporting robust economies” (14). Indeed, the Intra-Americas Development Bank (IADB) and the World Bank won’t fund cultural projects with no clear benefit (15), indicators of which include economic viability, “professional” viability, based on markets for “mainstream arts institutions,” and culture’s value for “social justice” (16).  He cites James D. Wolfensohn, head of the World Bank, giving a keynote in 1999: “Heritage gives value. Part of our joint challenge is the analyze the local and national returns on investments which restore and draw value from cultural heritage – whether it is built or living cultural expression, such as indigenous music, theater, crafts” (13).

The “inequitable use of the law” by the World Bank and others serves to impoverish already impoverished nations, while also inaugurating “a major shift in the value from productive labor to mental labor, which favors centers of ‘innovation,’ most of which are in the North.” The “International division of labor is centered in mental, immaterial, affective, and cultural forms of labor” (35). Here he perhaps makes labour sound a bit too warm and fuzzy, neglecting the types of bodily and emotional harm done to millions of workers in the global South; in this he also reminds me of the era that Coulthard writes about, with its turn to inclusion and psychologization.

In addition to having ideological salience, the culture industry has a bricks-and-mortar component that Yudice attends to, including funding agencies and institutions. The “arts and culture sector [has] burgeoned into an enormous network of arts administrators who mediate between funding sources and artists and / or communities” (13). He notes that the independent film industry exemplifies the outsourcing of risk within the creative economy (17), and self-publishing would be another example. (This makes me think about connections between reality TV and the “sharing economy.” Maybe a conference paper?)

Locally, the experience of (a certain type of) culture depends on migrant labor and surveillance to provide comfortable, sustaining, and secure spaces (20). Yudice gives the example of Guggenheim in Bilbao, which saw securitization taking on a particular racialized form. At the same time, cultural rights are ambiguously defined and do not carry universal weight, particularly in the realm of international law (21).      Points of


  • Like with Brouillette, culture industry for Inuit art does more than just grease the wheels of neoliberal capitalism and governance.
  • Today, culture is “called on to resolve a range of problems for community, which seems to be able to recognize itself in culture, which in turn has lost its specificity” (25). This seems important for discussions of Indigenous cultural identity and pressures exerted by the idea of authenticity.
  • He really gets into Foucault and Heidegger, but I’m nervous of going too deep into European theories of art and culture, given that Indigenous theory has much to say. Plus I think it’s important to localize and situate my research here, to be precise about what I’m talking about.

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