Governing a commodified culture in the 1980s. Jack Lang, the US and the European “exception”

di Alessandra Bitumi

Abstract english

This project investigates the Franco-American conflict over the definition of culture and its governance in historical perspective, focusing on a key transitional and transformational period: the 1980s and early 1990s. Through its emphasis on the competing visions of cultural order of the two countries under investigation, the research has a twofold objective: to examine if, and to what extent, this dispute on and over “culture” has influenced the progressive Europeanization/Communitarization of cultural policy; and to explore the impact this antagonism had on US-European relations more broadly, between 1981 and 1994. Moving beyond existing scholarship, this work fills major historiographical gaps in the study of transatlantic relations, French cultural history, U.S. political and intellectual history and European integration. In so doing, it also contributes to historicize central problems for the contemporary governance of culture.

This article discusses a current research project on the Franco-American divide over the definition of culture and its governance between 1981 and 1994. Based on extensive international archival research and new methodologies, this work moves beyond the existing literature and it reflects the growing interest of historians for the 1980s.

Thanks to newly accessible primary sources, scholars are now engaged in a thorough investigation of the decade, often blurring the standard chronology to encompass the late 1970s and early 1990s. Consistently, this study addresses the key questions around which a rich scholarly debate is now under way in the historical sub-fields that form the backbone of this project, the most relevant being history of international relations, French cultural history, US political and intellectual history, European integration, the history of trade relations, and Cold War history.

Following a brief introduction, I will highlight the historiographical relevance of the research casting light on the way it innovates the study of modern US-European relations, by focusing on culture, examining the key role played by international institutions (i.e. UNESCO and GATT) and including in the analysis and narrative the agency of various transnational actors. Methodology and sources will be addressed in the conclusion.

What, why, and how

In September 1981, the newly appointed French Minister of Culture – Jack Lang – boycotted the annual American film festival at Deauville, claiming that “a minister must choose between the exploiters and the exploited” (Lang 1981). A year later, at the Conference of the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture in Mexico City, he gave a famous and highly controversial speech. Building on the mounting tiers-mondisme of the UNESCO Assembly, Lang rhetorically asked the audience whether it would be willing to become vassal of the “immense empire of profit.” While eschewing explicit references to the US, he continued his address, to the perplexity of several European partners, amongst the jubilation of many representatives of the developing nations, and the anger of the Americans.

As France grew increasingly sensitive to the demands of many non-aligned countries for a “New World Information and Communication Order” (NWICO), the United States withdrew from UNESCO in 1984, followed by the United Kingdom two years later.

The Deauville boycott and the Mexico speech sparked a sharp debate among French intellectuals about cultural imperialism, national identity, anti-Americanism and the future of Europe. It also led to the articulation of a policy of defense of “cultural exception” and “cultural diversity” on a global scale. These two distinct but highly interrelated concepts – exception and diversity – were crucial in the redefinition of an alleged French cultural universalism during the 1980s, which Lang and a large part of the French cultural community, political élites and public opinion presented as the upholder of pluralism in a world threatened by US-led homogenization and standardization.

Against this backdrop, the project posits three research objectives. The first is to transcend the traditional focus on French anti-Americanism and connect French contestation of US politics and culture in the 1980s to the American political, intellectual and public debate on Socialist France and its specific cultural policy.

While Lang’s aggressive denunciation of US imperialism waned overtime, he nonetheless struggled to articulate a distinctive French cultural policy that achieved noticeable results and was centered on a relentless condemnation of American mass culture. The French Minister spoke openly of the “democratization of culture” praising the culturally non-aligned countries, and nurturing international and transnational alliances with those that feared US domination.

In 1984, while the US was finally exiting UNESCO, the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée together with the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs established a financial mechanism (Fonds Sud Cinéma) to sustain the cinematographic production of developing countries. Paris became the center of international cultural festivals, and the capital’s image was shaped by this broadcasted policy of inclusiveness and equality. Significant questions are therefore raised: how was this French policy of “cultural pluralism” and support for non-Western and postcolonial art received in the US? Whereas France’s defense of “global diversity” seemed to be also a response to the perceived decline of its cultural and intellectual status, how did American intellectual and political élites respond?

A further key issue to consider is Lang’s linkage between culture and economic development that amounted to a “Copernican revolution in Socialist thinking” (Poirrier 2004, 302). One of the most relevant innovations of his Ministry was indeed the attempt to integrate culture into the broader struggle for the modernization of the economy. This battle empowered the State, within and beyond its borders. On a domestic level, the main goal was to democratize culture: “a policy which formed part and parcel of the welfare state. And that goal was expressed in two parallel policies: giving citizens at large access to works of culture; and extending welfare benefits to the artistic community” (Poirrier 2004, 398). At the international level, it meant strengthening national cultural industries and curbing foreign imports in the audio-visual sector. While the budget of Lang’s Ministry doubled in 1982, President Reagan established a Presidential Task Force on the Arts and Humanities in 1981 to develop ideas to stimulate increased private giving for cultural activities, in the context of a progressive reduction of Federal spending. While US policies pivoted on the notion of deregulation, free-market, the primacy of the individual consumer and intellectual property rights, France appeared to move, somehow contradictorily and with mixed results, in a different direction. How did these different conceptualizations of the role of the State in the cultural realm affect Franco-American relations? How was this tension between competing visions of cultural order addressed?

The second objective is to explore how the Franco-American conflict over the politics of culture was played out within UNESCO and how such a split further exacerbated intra-European tensions. In 2005, under the impulse of France and Canada, this UN Agency adopted (with the support of 140 signatories) the Convention to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions. The US was not among them. Contesting the set of principles enshrined in the Convention and objecting to the measures indicated to fulfill its goals, the US position confirmed the Franco-American divide over cultural policies in the light of their contribution to social cohesion and development (Kozymca 2014). The origins of this still relevant “cultural gap” can be traced to the early 1980s. This continuity in the antagonistic politics of culture between the two countries is investigated from a long-term historical perspective, using UNESCO as a paradigmatic case-study. How did the discussion within UNESCO General Assembly and different committees unfold? What kind of domestic political and cultural discussion accompanied such heated debate? More broadly, what was the connection between this specific case and the more general Transatlantic divide on issues of multilateral global governance as well as on the role of international institutions?

The third objective is to investigate how the principles of “diversity” and “exception/exemption” were received within the European Community, the impact this has had on the Europeanization/Communitarization of cultural policy and the ensuing transatlantic disputes within the framework of GATT (1986-1994). Indeed, during the Uruguay Round, France became the champion of the defense of the “exception culturelle”, to protect the distinctiveness of French and European culture against the influx of US audio-visual material.

In 1994, the audiovisual sector was finally excluded from the General Agreements on Trade and Services subsections: the French – backed by the EU – succeeded, but it was just the first shot of a long, ongoing and ambiguous battle, on the regulation of culture within Europe and in a globalized world (Littoz-Monnet 2007; Meunier 2005, Meunier and Jacoby 2010; Meunier and Gordon 2001; Kaiser and Meyer 2013). How was the attempt to transnationalize this French initiative pursued? How interdependent were the national and the transnational in this effort to define an “exception” that was primarily oppositional, i.e. against the homologating forces of U.S.-promoted cultural globalization?

As far as the objectives of this research are concerned, there are relevant historiographical deficits and the existing scholarship has only partially, and often tangentially, dealt with the issues at the core of this project. Specifically, this study confronts and challenges the current historiographical debate in different fields and addresses five major gaps.

The first concerns the critical reception of France’s cultural policy in the United States and its impact on the formation of a novel anti-European/ anti-French discourse.

Scholars of French cultural history have provided a rich and accurate overview of French cultural policy during the Mitterrand’s years, stressing both continuity and rupture with the “André Malraux Era” (Dubois 1999; Fumaroli 1992; Hunter 1990; Loosley 1995; Martin 2008; Ory 1984; Poirrier 2010; Urfalino 2004). They have brought to the fore and described the broad array of macro and micro initiatives promoted by the French government, which ranged from ambitious programs to alter the international communication system to highly symbolic cultural events, to specific, ad hoc legislation aimed at shielding quintessential national cultural industries from what were described as the homologating forces of globalization: books, records, films, broadcasting, etc.

The decisive contribution of François Mitterrand, and of his Minister of Culture Jack Lang, to the protection and development of the “Francophonie” in the 1980s has also received attention, along with the significance of the highly symbolic, and duly celebrated, Grand Travaux (Public Works): Arche de la Fraternité-Le Défense, the Bastille Opera House, the Grand Louvre, the National Library (Adolphe 2004; Boulbina 2007; Delarue 1999; Loosley 1995).

The existing literature has similarly endeavored to assess and quantify the socio-economic motivation and impact of Lang’s initiatives, their positive economic reverberations being one of the key tenets of (and justifications for) the variety of cultural policies adopted in the period under consideration. A few works in cultural studies and political science have been dedicated to the attempt to define the political economy of this new policy (and politics) of culture (Ahearne 2002; Littoz-Monnet 2014; Meunier and Gordon 2001).

Within a broader picture, scholars have also addressed the place of Americanization (and its contestation) in the formulation of Lang’s policy (Hunter 1996; Loosely 1995; Martigny 2016; Martin 2008).

Already a programmatic lynchpin of the Socialist campaign in the late 1970s, the strategy and discourse denouncing American cultural imperialism and emphasizing the French (and, potentially, European) exception took certainly center stage in the newly formed government of François Mitterrand. A perusal of the speeches of Lang, his colleagues and acolytes shows how a discourse strongly critical of the United States was articulated and played out in the public, political and intellectual debate (Martigny 2012). While the aggressive denunciation of the American cultural empire waned overtime – without, however, completely disappearing – policies were nonetheless often framed and justified in binary and antagonistic terms, through the use of a specific, threatening and in many ways functional Other represented by the homogenizing forces of neoliberal and market globalization, sustained by post-1980s conservative America. Building on the popularity of this discourse, as well as on the legacy of a redefined tiers-mondisme, appealing to many intellectuals as well as to rank-and-file socialists, Lang professed engagement in the North-South Dialogue and support for a more democratic “New World Information Order” (NWIO). The pillar of this order was the defense and protection of national medias, against the apparently inexorable concentration and commercialization of means of communication. In doing so, Jack Lang’s Ministry of Culture attempted to put France at the forefront of a broad anti-US coalition, while trying to progressively articulate an immensely ambitious policy of defense of cultural pluralism to be projected onto a global scale. In a sort of paradoxical twist, invoking and celebrating the French/European cultural exception was functional to claim a global role, if not a global mission, for France and its new Socialist government.

The existing literature, while rich in detail and certainly useful for this research, tends to be still very insular: it focuses primarily, and sometimes exclusively, on the French discussion and on the policies that ensued; it deals with the United States, and the rejection of its cultural model, insofar as it relates to such domestic discussion; it is predominantly based on French archival materials; and it rarely considers the broader transatlantic context. While very few studies pay attention to intra-European/EC dynamics (Littoz-Monnet 2014; Paoli and Spagnoli 2014; Tretter 2011), no study confronts the fundamental issue of the US specific cultural and political response to Jack Lang’s policies along with the resultant effect on Franco-American and Euro-American relations. Such issue lies at the core of this project, trying to answer the crucial question of what was the reaction of Conservative America.

As a matter of fact, Mitterrand and Lang’s semi-revolution unfolded in the midst of a significant reconfiguration of the US political, cultural and economic landscape: a neoliberal and neoconservative shift which radically impacted US foreign policy and, consequently, transatlantic relations (Phillips-Fein 2011; Rodgers 2011; Rossinow 2015).

Connecting French cultural history to the transformation of the United States in the 1980s represents a substantial methodological innovation and allows for a groundbreaking and sophisticated understanding of Franco-American and US-European connections in the period considered. This choice clearly presents a certain degree of risk, given the originality of the hypotheses and research questions connecting multiple levels of analysis. However, any reflection on the impact of global cultural trends on US-European relations – indeed on the very nature and identity of the Atlantic community in the age of globalization– has to engage with this crucial, and yet under-explored dimension.

The second historiographical gap is linked to the impact of the “rightward bound” in American politics on the discourse on Franco-American and Transatlantic Relations.

The central issues in the scholarly debate on American history concern the emergence of conservatism as a mainstream political force and the entrenchment in the federal government of a new way of conceptualizing the relationship between the state and the market.

While most accounts have focused closely on Ronald Reagan, offering a complex and contradictory picture of this pivotal figure of the decade (Ehrman 2009; Rogin 1988; Dallek 1984; Schaller 1994; Troy 2005), newer analytic approaches put the Reagan years in perspective by looking at the evolution of conservatism, the mounting tensions within the multifaceted American Right and the political, economic and cultural transformations it engendered (Chappell 2010; Cowie 2008; Rodgers 2011). This recent scholarship on the rightward “bound” in American politics has sought to treat it in terms of broad social and economic changes that made the nation more receptive to the conservative agenda, instead of describing it primarily in terms of the political strategies adopted by the Republican Party. A framework for thinking about the decade has slowly begun to emerge and this research aims to innovate the study to consider how this transformation impacted the US vision of Europe, how Europe was represented in the intellectual and public debate when, as Mary Nolan argues in her last book, the “transatlantic social policy gap widened consistently from the 1980s onward as the US (and Britain) embraced neoliberalism and launched a full-scale assault on social rights. Different conceptualizations of the social and of social rights as well as distinctive social policy regimes were indeed integral parts of Europe’s own, peculiar, varieties of capitalism and version of modernity” (Nolan 2012, 6).

In the past few years, the historiography of the Cold War and of Euro-American relations has begun examining this turn, with some scholars stressing the divisive impact it had on the Atlantic community (Nolan 2010; Romero 2009) and others, instead, emphasizing how the “second Cold War” of the early 1980s and the post-1970s neoliberal globalization converged in cementing a new Transatlantic cohesion and, even, ideology (Blyth 2008; Gillingham 2003).

In our domain of research, the depth of this transatlantic (and Franco-American) rift appears too patent to be contested, particularly if we concentrate our attention on the discursive and ideological terrain. In the realm of culture, and in the politics of culture, the two primary subjects of our analysis – the United States and France, the conservative Reagan administration and the socialist French government – diverged radically, and in the early 1980s this divergence spiraled to unprecedented levels: that the antagonistic cultural policies of Washington and Paris were perhaps even mutually reinforcing. The United States replied to Mitterrand and Lang’s evocation of cultural pluralism and exception by stressing the importance of delegating cultural interactions to market forces, by limiting state activism, by involving private subjects and funding, and, finally, by challenging the French position in international fora (such as UNESCO) as well as in the global intellectual conversation that accompanied the political discussion.

With regard to this domain of the historiographical debate, the research aims at offering alternative perspectives and original insight, by investigating three main issues.

The first is the interplay between a (broadly investigated) anti-American discourse in France and in Europe, and a resurgent anti-Europeanism that seems to have represented a distinctive discursive and ideological component of the post-1970s new US conservatism. For the kind of anti-market and anti-US language he spoke, Jack Lang was in many ways the ideal bête-noire of this neoliberal conservatism. Their powerful nationalist discourse often turned, openly, against Europe and represented a radical departure from the old inclusive Atlantic discourse of the early Cold War years. The language of some key figures such as Senator Henry Jackson (D, Washington), Patrick Joseph “Pat” Buchanan, Henry Jackson, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Henry Kissinger, William Kristol, Walter Laqueur, Norman Podhoretz, Richard Perle shows how this shift occurred and how this rhetoric definitely anticipated some more recent reflections, the most popular and controversial being Robert Kagan’s conflict between “Paradise and Power” (Kagan, 2003). Whereas we have a substantial, and still growing, body of scholarship on what for the sake of simplicity we define as anti-Americanism, modern and contemporary US “anti-Europeanism” has been subjected to absolutely limited, and mostly impressionistic and anecdotal, investigation. Through a systematic and thorough examination of the language used in the US to assess, counter, and denounce Lang’s rhetoric of cultural exception/diversity, this project might open a new, extraordinarily fertile, field of research.

The second issue concerns the Franco-American struggle within UNESCO: the forum selected, not accidentally, by Lang to launch his crusade; and the institution chosen by the United States for a response – withdrawal – whose extreme symbolic significance can hardly be underestimated.

Leaving UNESCO meant seceding from a piece of that post World War II liberal international order the United States had crucially contributed to construct, and whose pillars the new American Right had, however, increasingly criticized and denounced.

Finally, attention should be paid to the transatlantic confrontation within GATT and the contradictions of the post-1970s liberalization of global trade. Antithetical French and US discourses on culture, and how to promote and disseminate its many “products”, served specific national interests and were complemented by often antithetical policy proposals and prescriptions. This emerges neatly in the key debate within GATT that centered, among other issues, on how to consider audio-visual industries and products. The case of GATT and of the Uruguay Round thus offers an ideal terrain for discussing both the US reaction of France’s new cultural policy and its broader reverberations on what had historically been one of the crucial domains and drivers – trade – of transatlantic interdependence.

While pursuing the abovementioned research goals, the project further innovates the historiographical debate in two additional dimensions: the study of European socialism and the study of American think-thanks.

The cultural initiatives of the French government – their ambitions, discourse and contradictions – must indeed be located within that very context of European socialism that saw its heyday in the 1970s and that was soon to be challenged by the conservative and neoliberal response of the following decades. Since the PSF’s refoundation of 1971, the party’s catchwords had been ranging from “changing life” to “breaking off with capitalism”. But the application of its principles turned out to be more problematic and contradictory.

The ultimate failure of “Keynesianism in a single country” spurred a wide debate on the new conditions of national policymaking in an age of increased interdependence, and led the Socialists to deepen their reflection on European integration, which they perceived as an alternative to the limits of national initiatives, as well as on new forms of “North-South” dialogue, in which French socialists should play a guiding role (Callaghan 2000).

This dual engagement – within Europe and as European leader of a more global front – would mark the subsequent years of Mitterrand’s presidency. How, and to what extent, did cultural policy reflect the transformations of the French Socialist Party and its new foreign policy outlook? By raising these questions, this study also reflect – from an unconventional and yet central point of observation (i.e. transatlantic divides on cultural policy) – on the evolution of European Socialism in the 1980s. We have valuable scholarship on 20th century socialism (Sassoon 1996; Lazar 1996; Callaghan 2000; Moschonas 2002; Eley 2002), which examines it primarily from a comparative political perspective. We lack, however, studies capable of integrating these works, examining often neglected dynamics and contributing to a more comprehensive research, capable of making use of the expanding body of archival materials. The approach we intend to adopt and the case-studies we have chosen will allow therefore to examine a key transnational dimension of the challenges European Socialist/Social Democratic party faced. In doing so, significant attention must be paid to the link between the evolution of the Socialist political culture, the shifts in the notions of national sovereignty brought about by the emerging globalization processes, and the role played by the EC – both as an institutional actor and an unfinished project – in all of this.

A fourth historiographical gap meant to be closed concerns the role of new political think-tanks and networks in the shaping of new politics of culture.

As Kim Phillips-Fein (2011) summarized in her historiographical essay, the basic questions historians are asking themselves today revolve around the roots, content and impact of the rise of a self-conscious conservative movement. “How should we think about the changes in American culture and politics over the 1980s? How did the tensions of the 1970s become resolved in the 1980s around a new conservatism and faith in the free market – if in fact they did?”.

This research fits into this framework of investigation, but moves beyond it by exploring the intellectual roots and the major themes of American conservatism, questioning its rhetoric on culture and Europe, and also studying its organizational bases, including conservative think thanks. While sociologists and political scientists have produced interesting analysis of the so-called “think thank phenomenon”, historical perspectives are alarmingly lacking. Some works (Medvetz 2012; Ricci 1993, Rick 2004; Smith 1991; Diletti 2010) offer a detailed and interesting picture of US think tanks but historians have failed to historicize the phenomenon. This is particularly true in the case of historians of the conservative movement, who have paid surprisingly little attention to the role of think tanks in the rise of the New Right and the fall of New Deal liberalism. This research aims at filling a vacuum by focusing on the activities of US think tanks and the political and cultural landscape they were embedded in throughout the Seventies and Eighties.

The last gaps focuses on France’s effort to “Europeanize” its position and its dispute with the United States.

The French-American quarrel was played in a transatlantic terrain that was strictly entangled with a progressively enlarged European Community’s space. This connection, and in part, interdependence between “the Atlantic” and “the European” rendered inevitable an intra-European spillover of the ideological and political divergence between Washington and Paris over culture: how to define it; how to liberalize it; how to protect and guarantee cultural pluralism vis-à-vis the homologating forces of neoliberal globalization. All the more so, in light of a) the deregulation process undertaken by the European Community in the mid-1980s, b) the deliberate attempt of Lang and Mitterrand to “Europeanize” its cultural order, projecting on a European scale their claims of “cultural diversity”: metamorphosing the alleged French exception into a possible, if not necessary, European exception.

In the diplomatic sphere and in the many realms of transatlantic negotiations, such as in the case-study of UNESCO, it appears that France frequently appealed to the necessity of forming a common European front vis-à-vis the US giant. The United States could of course rely on the network of highly asymmetrical bilateral relationships it had built with all the major European (and EC) players, beginning of course with the special alliance with Britain, now fostered also by the political and ideological convergence between the Reagan administration and the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher.

In this complex web of multiple relationships, “Europeanizing” the French position acquired relevant strategic value and became a key goal of Mitterrand and Lang, along with the rhetorical effort to present France as the leader of a counter-global bloc, capable of building upon the persistent fascination for third-worldist alternatives and models (Paoli and Spagnoli 2014). This “Europeanization” is all the more visible in the field of trade and in the case of GATT, the second case-study. Here institutional dynamics, and the need for the European Community to operate as a single actor produced a common EC front that was far from simple to achieve.

By focusing on cultural policy, this research touches upon three relevant questions within the field of European integration history: the process of intra-European bargaining that leads to the articulation of EC/EU policies; the European Community/Union ability to forge a common position and negotiate unitarily in multilateral fora (UNESCO and GATT); EC/EU ambiguous reception of international Reaganomics.

Scholars of European integration have addressed from a multi-disciplinary perspective the process of intra-European bargaining in the articulation of common European policies, be they related to trade, aid and development, the environment, gender mainstreaming or the common agricultural policy. Compared to other domains, the regulation of culture is poorly explored. The most relevant study in the field is Littoz-Monnet’s (2014), but the impact of French dirigisme on the Communitarization of broadcasting regulation and of copyrights policy is investigated from a theoretical perspective concerned with the analysis of the multi-level European governance. The adoption of a different methodology, i.e. historical, will lead to a different conceptualization of the issue, and therefore distinctive conclusions.

Also, EU studies have investigated the EC attempt to forge an international dimension of sort by focusing on the European Community’s ability to “speak with one voice” in multilateral fora, but the existing scholarship is still limited and excessively compartmentalized. While historical analysis is well-developed in the cases of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and in the case of the early rounds of GATT (Romano 2013; Coppolaro 2013), few scholars have extended the analysis to major bodies of the UN and other IOs, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the International Labour Organization, and the World Bank (Laatikainen and Smith 2006; Rasch 2008; Wouters, Hoffmeister and Ruys, 2006). Political scientists have aptly examined the EU response to the challenge of globalization, particularly in the area of trade (Meunier 2005; Meunier and Jacoby 2010). Their works, however, have been based on little archival material, with the exception of public documents, and have focused primarily on current events, therefore have not engaged with the broader, fundamental, historiography of Franco-American and Transatlantic relations. As for historians, with few exceptions (Mechi, Migani and Petrini 2014), the approach adopted has led to detailed descriptions of the mechanisms of mutual representation and consultation, heavily focused on the institutional dimension of the process, and greatly overlooking the cultural, political and international context. The scope of the questions raised has to be widened; the interpretative paradigm must be more ambitious. And the same applies to the highly challenging issue of the EC rejection/adaptation to neoliberalism (Basosi 2013). Can we identify two wholly different approaches – American and European – to the relationship between the State and the market? While the US has embraced neo-liberalism both in practice and rhetoric, Europe seems to be struggling in reconciling its discourse on the alleged diversity of the “European social model” – the pillar of a EU/European exceptionalist narrative – and actual political choices in a world economy that seems to limit options and possibilities. The question is open. And this historiographical knot can and should be further untangled. It is a new frontier of research, crucial for the understanding of the economic, political and social history of both sides of the Atlantic. And it is a key element in the interpretation of contemporary transatlantic relations. Indeed, around the appreciation of the seemingly dissimilar conception of capitalism revolves the larger question of American and European identities and self-representations.

Time, context, space and actors

The research identifies the years 1981-1994 as a crucial period for the study of Franco-American, European and transatlantic relations in the realm of cultural policy. This is due to four interrelated processes. First: the unfolding of the Socialist design for the governance of culture in France, during the Mitterrand years (1981-1995); second: the neoliberal and neoconservative shift in the United States during the Reagan Administration (1981-1989) and its impact on the US cultural policies; third: the progressive Communitarization of cultural policy during the 1980s and the attribution of formal competences to the European Union by the Treaty of Maastricht (1993). Finally, the EC-US disputes on “cultural exception” and how they affected the two case-studies selected for the research: the discussions within UNESCO (1981-1984) and during the Uruguay Round of trade talks at the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT), 1986-1994.

The conclusion of the Round represents the limit of this project, which is based on an innovative methodological approach.

It integrates narratives of Euro-American relations in an unconventional way, casting US-European history within the global frame of multifaceted and transnational connections that came to characterize the XX century, particularly in the Cold War era. The issue, here, is not only the study of Euro-American relations, but equally what other networks, circuits of exchange and areas of the world they should be studied in relation to, particularly the “global South” (Nolan 2014, 32).

By linking the intra-European dimension and the transatlantic framework, it also bridges the gap between the historiography on the Cold War and that on European Integration: two fields of historical research that are often separated and struggle to dialogue with one another (Ludlow 2012, 179; Gilbert 2008).

The project unveils the articulated debate that occurred within and among a wide array of subjects most concerned with the discussion and governance of cultural policies, European and transatlantic relations. Moving beyond a state-centered narrative, a broad range of subjects is therefore considered: transnational players, NGOs, public and private networks, international organizations.

Within a wide panoply of governmental sources, the French, American and British are clearly essential. Newly declassified material is available at the Archives nationales; Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine; Archive diplomatique du Ministère des Affaires étrangères; the Presidential Libraries of R. Reagan, G. Bush and B. Clinton, the National Archives and Records Administration, as well as the British National Archives and Margaret Thatcher Foundation. Similarly, European and International archival material (related to UNESCO, GATT and EC Institutions) proves pivotal in the understanding the many issues raised.

Specific attention is also focused on the intellectual élite, defined as a heterogeneous group of subjects primarily responsible for the circulation of ideas and expertise within France, the US, the UK and beyond. This includes: experts associated with universities and research institutes; managers of cultural industries, journalists, artists. In the US, the major focus is on conservative groups and think tanks (particularly the American Family Association, for its relentless pressure against the NEA; the American Enterprise Institute; The Heritage Foundation; The Hudson Institute; The Cato Institute). Press reviews and a close scrutiny of the material collected by the main think tanks and Foundations provide the indispensable tools to fully grasp the meaning of the political and public conversation over cultural governance.

One last word should be said with regard to the relevance of the questions raised in the current and future transatlantic scenario.

In past years, negotiations on the now stalled Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have taken center-stage in the US-European political and public debate, with important sectors of the civil society, and many NGOs, lamenting a lack of transparency and information. Among the debated issues, the status of cultural and audiovisual services has been widely discussed and the concept of “cultural exception” has resurfaced, stirring interest among scholars, politicians and citizens. Up until now, EU negotiators have officially stuck to the idea and jargon of the “exception culturelle.” EU representatives have assured that the cultural sector will remain fundamentally untouched by TTIP. Discussion on this thin “red line” is however extremely heated, particularly in a historical juncture marked by renewed tensions between the United States and some of its most important European partners. This proposed project is therefore particularly timely. Its core issues are important aspects of current transatlantic relations and will remain so for the foreseeable future. An historical approach to the investigation of present challenges enables a more sophisticated understanding of our time and potentially offers useful lessons to policymakers and analysts.


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Alessandra Bitumi holds a PhD in modern European History from the University of Pavia (Italy). Former Fulbrighter at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, visiting scholar at NYU and post-doctoral fellow the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3, she’s now Affiliated Researcher at CREW, Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3. She has taught courses at Sciences Po (Paris); the American University of Paris, the Dickinson College (Bologna campus) and at the University of Bologna. Her expertise relates primarily to modern European History and Transatlantic Relations. Among her most recent publications: Rethinking the historiography of transatlantic relations in the Cold War years: the US, Europe and the process of European integration” in M. Vaudagna (Ed.), Reinstating Europe in American History in a Global Context, Otto, Turin, 2015, pp.71-95; A. Bitumi, Un ponte sull’Atlantico. Il “Programma di visitatori” e la diplomazia pubblica della Comunità europea negli anni Settanta (A Bridge on the Atlantic. “The Visitors Program” and the EC Public Diplomacy in the 1970s), Il Mulino, 2014.