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New study probes radical rethink on culture

06 Feb 2012

The University of Manchester is to host a £1.5 million investigation, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), into how society can get the most out of the vast array of often overlooked cultural activities Britons take part in.

Manchester’s Dr Andrew Miles will lead a team of experts from the universities of Exeter, Leicester and Warwick in a bid to understand the value of hobbies, community festivals and other leisure activities which millions of people take part in every day.

The team will carry out historical analyses and produce new data to help policy makers and arts organisations target their funding more effectively.

They will find out where cultural participation takes place, how it is valued, and carry out trials of new policy interventions - with the help of national partners and community organisations - in Manchester, Gateshead, Peterborough and Dartmoor.

Additional funding from Creative Scotland will enable two further trials to take place in Aberdeen and Stornoway.

Dr Miles, who is based at the University’s Centre for Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC),said: “Though millions of Britons take part in participatory activities every day, we need to do more to understand the contribution these make to communities and places.

“Many bodies define cultural participation too narrowly, considering only traditional cultural institutions such as museums and galleries.

“But we believe that other - sometimes mundane - activities such as pastimes, local events and social activities  - should also be included.”

The project engages with the concept of cultural capital, developed by the world famous sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in the 1980s, which argues that what people do in their cultural lives influences their sense of identity and can have important effects on their life chances.

Dr Miles added: “Thanks to the AHRC grant, this radical re-evaluation of the relationship between participation and cultural value will provide bodies with the information they need to target their resources more effectively.

“Our aim is to find ways to promote better identification and more equitable resourcing of the vast array of these overlooked activities which generate wellbeing, cultural capital and contribute to the development of creative local economies.”