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Cultural policy research in the real world: Curating ‘impact’, facilitating ‘enlightenment’

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journal contribution
posted on 19.07.2016, 08:42 by Ele Belfiore
The very identity of cultural policy studies as a distinctive field of academic pursuit rests on a long-standing and widely accepted tension between ‘proper research’ and policy advocacy, which has often resulted in resistance to the idea that robust, critical research can – or even should – be ‘useful’ and have impact on policy discourse. This paper tries to navigate a third route, which sees policy relevance and influence as a legitimate goal of critical research, without accepting the pressures and restrictions of arts advocacy and lobbying. This is accomplished by exploring in detail the journey ‘into the real world’ of preliminary quantitative data produced by the UEP project in the context of its development of a segmentation exercise based on Taking Part data. The exercise used cluster analysis to identify profiles of cultural participation, and showed that single most engaged group corresponded to the wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the English population. This data fed into the consultation and evidence gathering process of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value, and was eventually cited in its final report Enriching Britain. The paper looks at the trajectory that ‘the 8%’ statistic has travelled, charting its increasing prominence in English cultural policy debates and argues that, despite the impossibility for researchers to exert control over the use and misuse of their data, policy influence is nonetheless a realistic objective if understood in terms of ‘conceptual influence’.


This work was supported by the AHRC under Grant number AH/J005401/1.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies

Published in

Cultural Trends


BELFIORE, E., 2016. Cultural policy research in the real world: Curating ‘impact’, facilitating ‘enlightenment’. Cultural Trends, 25 (3), pp. 205-216.


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AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Cultural Trends on 28 July 2016, available online: