Culture and inequality report

A new report has highlighted the connection between access to culture and social inequality. It also acknowledges the ways in which established patterns in arts development and production can contribute to maintaining social inequality.

The report, commissioned by the AHRC’s Cultural Value Project was written by Dave O’Brien of Goldsmiths, University of London, and Professor Kate Oakley of Leeds University, and explores the links between inequality and both the production and consumption of culture.

The report argues that inequality has become essential to understanding contemporary British society and yet its relationship with cultural value is relatively under-researched.  It considers how cultural value is consumed and how it is produced arguing that although the two activities have traditionally been considered separately in both academic research and public policy, the two activities are absolutely essential to understanding the relationship between culture and social inequality.

The literature review concentrates on the ‘big three’ issues of inequality – race, class and gender -  where most of the literature is to be found, but also touches on disability, sexuality and spatial inequality. All of the research reviewed suggests an undeniable connection between cultural value and inequality. Understanding that connection is currently impeded by a lack of data, the report explains. The report further suggests that given the political importance of this topic, public policy must do more to provide robust research, particularly about cultural production.

Dr O’Brien said: “A review of the research is absolutely clear - there is an important connection between inequality and the process of valuing culture. In future any consideration of cultural value will be incomplete unless it takes inequality into account. This link is present in both the production and consumption of culture and raises important questions about what and who is on our stages, screens, in our magazines and on our walls. However we still need more work to determine the exact causal relationship between inequalities of production, inequalities of consumption and inequalities of representation.”