(New) Institutional Theory and The Swedish Report on Culture

The theory of new institutionalism as first formulated in 1984 by political scientists James March and Johan Olsen largely as a reaction to a stale function of ‘old’ institutionalism, they proposed a rethinking of the slumbering discussion of how and why institutions shape human behavior and thoughts and political governance. They envisioned a deviation from the ongoing political analysis that focused more on values and collective choice and desire, thus likely to shake the ground of rational choice theorists who believed that institution merely are the accumulation of individual choices based on utility-maximizing preferences. New Institutionalism was formulated from within the field of political science but have had ramifications in all social sciences since, and could well be repeated whilst browsing through the report on culture, that I commented on previously. March and Olsen write:

The bureaucratic agency, the legislative committee, the appellate court are arenas for contending social forces, but they are also collections of standard operating procedures and structures that define and defend interests. They are political actors in their own right. (1984, The New Institutionalism, James March and Johan Olsen)

Reading trough the report on culture I stop to think at page 30, in the 2nd part of the report The Reneawal Program (Förnyelseprogram), where the investigation develops ideas on why it has envisioned the massive reorganisation of Swedish governmental cultural institutions; the organisations that are to be formed will be ”more stable” and easier facilitate contact with ”other organisations” and ”interests”.

Now I agree that the first real report on culture back in ’74 did envision a new cluster of state organisations for cultural policy which today have come stale and old and thus are in a need of certain transformation and radicalisation. What scares me most about the vision presented in the new report is the view of the modulence of institutions to fit and adapt to the consumer of culture (or rather the pro-sumer), in such a blunt way that we tend to forget the aspects of production modes which shape what kind of culture we cultural workers are instigating. No contrast this to the interesting vision of critic Nina Möntmann in her essay The Rise and Fall of New Institutionalism – Perspectives on a Possible Future in Trasversal, where she uses some case studies to look at how western styled art institutions can radicalize and shape an interesting structure for producers and consumers alike. Her recommendations are contrary to that of the report on culture, namely to shrink and facilitate devolution of current institutions:  

”…reduce the number of structures and standards, and disengage spaces from too many codes and contexts. Here, where we have an institutionalized art field – and consequently the opportunities to participate in semi-public spaces, but also the difficulties caused by the control mechanisms of these spaces – the options are somewhat different. Here there are inherently many categories and conventions for all kinds of art spaces, and alternatives are always measured against the official system that already exists and is increasingly defined by the politics of city marketing and sponsorship.”

Möntmanns starting point is the artworld integration of New Institutionalism, seen during the first part of 2000 in Rooseum nad Kunst-Werke in Berlin, breaking down barriers between the audience and the institutions. The project displayed there was exercising critique from within the institution, as a consequence of the strong curator that internalised the institutions critique of the 60’s into a structure for production and consumption = prosumption.


Nina Möntmann begs to disagree with the Swedish cultural report's take on institutions of the future

OCA in Oslo published the booklet New Institutionalism in 2003 and brought the term into an art context, of course without much of the observations of James March and Johan Olsen, but through the concept of ”the institution of critique”, stemming from the seminal article on instutitional critique in the by artist Andrea Fraser. Many observers including Nina Möntmann, Tone Hansen, Trude Iversen (The new administration of aesthetics, 2006) and others view this period as lost to a fast and brutal neoliberal economy exploding in our face.  Well, new times cause for new solutions and I believe that the new institutions must make use of mechanisms of the economy rather than just fighting against it. not to be compared to just following the economy, but rather opposing it through its own mechanisms of destruction and change.

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2 thoughts on “(New) Institutional Theory and The Swedish Report on Culture

  1. sian tiksom skriver:

    The State is trying to screw the individual at both ends here with this piece of legislation-as always.
    Furthermore all institutions are predatory and institutionalization is definitively malevolent.

  2. Victoria Preston skriver:

    Correction: OCA in Oslo published the booklet ”New Institutionalism” in 2003 TWO YEARS BEFORE ”From the critique of institutions to an institution of critique” in
    ArtForum, Sept, 2005 by Andrea Fraser. Fraser was commenting on a shift in institutional policy that was already taking place. The link between New Institutionalism and institutional of critique had already been made by Julia Brayan–Wilson in the OCA booklet


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