Wilson, Nicholas Charles; Gross, Jonathan (2017). 'The Case for Cultural Capability' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


In this paper, we make the case for cultural capability, i.e., the substantive freedom to give form and value to our experiences of self and self-in-relation. This is a freedom readily overlooked because it is so widely assumed to be axiomatic to ‘being human’; but in reality it is a freedom that is often curtailed or restricted, either individually or collectively. One reason for this is the reductionist view that such a capability is only of particular relevance to those interested in or working with culture and the arts. The starting point for our conceptual contribution is indeed to be found in an empirical research project within the specific context of the UK’s arts and cultural sector. But over and above the domain level implications of taking cultural capabilities seriously across the arts, creative industries, and everyday creativity (where, notably, we show how cultural opportunities extend well beyond access to publicly funded arts), we argue that cultural capability needs to be regarded as meta-theoretically central to how we provide opportunities for everyone ‘to do and be what they really value’, i.e., the central objective of the Capabilities Approach (CA). We call for comparative research across regions, nations and cultures to better understand how cultural capabilities can be (and are) turned into functionings in context; and we make the case for setting up a thematic grouping within the HDCA, alongside the possibility of including cultural capability on the CA index.  

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