Peter Tschmuck: Einführung in die Kulturbetriebslehre. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 151 pages.
Even if the field of cultural management—to which Cultural Institutions Studies as developed in Vienna belongs—is a relatively young field of study, there do exist a number of introductions to it that are intended for use in academic teaching. It is against these that every new such attempt must be assessed, and it should be stated right up front that Einführung in die Kulturbetriebslehre [Introduction to Cultural Institutions Studies] compares favourably. Author Peter Tschmuck, known above all for his analyses pertaining to the music business, takes an approach here that structures the field organised according to a number of key concepts. The terms for these concepts, which form something of a golden thread running throughout this volume, are “culture” (Kultur), “institution” (Betrieb), “good” (Gut), and “value” (Wert). Tschmuck uses typical examples to introduce, discuss, and illustrate each concept in its methodological and theoretical specifics with an eye to at least the most important research traditions.
This serves to situate the various notions of culture between a meaning-oriented text-paradigm and a real life-oriented social practice-paradigm. Here, one might voice the objection that portraying complex notions of culture on a mere 23 pages necessarily involves reductions in complexity, but those who expect some sort of exhaustive completeness overlook the purpose of such an introduction—which is to capture relevant ideas and traditions. This also goes for the other concepts. The various social science and science studies-derived conceptualisations of organisations and institutions are introduced in their ambiguity (as organisations or agencies) and their variability, the latter of which is shown quite nicely with reference to copyright law in the music business. This makes clear how technologically induced changes to social practices also influence cultural production, as one can easily see in the shift from physical to digital sound storage media. It follows that cultural goods are introduced between the poles of cultural self-understanding and economic utility, similarly to how the concept of value is discussed in its cultural and economic interdependencies. Cultural institutions studies, Tschmuck makes clear, embodies an approach that takes into account both economic exchange value and cultural symbolic value. The business world translates the symbolic into exchange values, while the art world translate exchange values into symbolic values, as can be seen in the case of Banksy’s shredder action at Sotheby’s. Cultural goods, according to the coherent logic of the cultural institutions approach, thus arise in an institutional setting that manifests structures and practices aimed at producing and conveying symbols, with “cultural institutions” understood either as organisational entities or as networks.
Following the introduction of his key concepts and their anchoring in the history of science, Tschmuck attempts to locate cultural institutions studies as developed in Vienna within the history of the field. To this end, he provides a concise overview of central developments ranging from the American “production-of-culture” approach to the initially dominant adaptations of concepts from business administration as part of functional cultural management and on to various efforts at theoretical undergirding as a discipline in its own right. In this regard, examples of individual concepts from the relevant research are introduced that focus on phenomena such as networking among protagonists, the links between culture and the economy, and power structures as well as power relations. Here, one can also at least implicitly infer criticism of an understanding of the discipline that is concerned more with practical intervention than it is with intellectually rigorous invention—a phenomenon that can be observed to this day.
It is this history of the broader field that forms the backdrop for the emergence and aspirations of cultural institutions studies, which—as a research discipline—investigates the production, distribution, and reception of cultural goods, thereby reflecting upon the antagonism between purposive rationality and value-belief-oriented rationality that would seem so central here. While the former is about reducing complexity, stabilising expectations, and achieving regularity in the sense of a means-ends relationship, the latter is about increasing complexity, thwarting expectations, and mobilising creativity in the sense of a purpose-aim relationship. And this distinction gives rise to the specific act of translation between the spheres of value that one must indeed expect from cultural management (understood as a process of making decisions about scarce resources). A look ahead then includes hypothetical perspectives on cultural institutions studies developed as a trans-discipline, as one that focuses its research on processes by which symbolically charged cultural goods arise and are transformed into objects of economic exchange, on cultural practices and their institutionalisation, on specific characteristics of cultural institutions, and on processes underlying the society-level organisation of artistic and cultural professions while also adopting a methodology the pays just as much heed to the genesis and transformation of the cultural institution as it does the respective dimensions of practice, structure, and cultural goods.
In closing, it must be said that Peter Tschmuck, with this introduction to cultural institutions studies that is so clearly distinct from previously published academic instructional works by virtue of its focus on central key concepts, has succeeded in giving rise to a presentation that is in equal measures concise and inspiring as well as (above all) eminently readable, one that is well suited to being employed to great benefit in university teaching.