A conceptual framework on right and left-wing populist cultural policies: similitudes
and differences from the Argentina case (
Mariano Martín Zamorano, Universitat de Barcelona
Lluis Bonet, Universitat de Barcelona
Populism is at present a contested and extended concept. Different approaches -- concerning
how constructing hegemony through a discourse that opposes elites to the people -- are handled
by left and right-wing politicians and discussed by citizens on a daily basis. In a globalized
world, where communication technologies greater define political struggle, the potential of
discourse for shaping social life becomes evident, while "post-truth" political culture generates
a constant overlapping of messages. In this context, culture and cultural policies are turning
into fundamental instruments for political dispute both at public and street levels. However, no
clear definitions about how public cultural policies are adopting populism as strategic basis or
concerning how populism is determining contemporary cultural policies. In this text we offer
a conceptual framework for advancing on delimiting the main characteristics of populist
cultural policies on the basis of two opposite Argentinian cases, the right-wing administrations
of PRO in the city of Buenos Aires and left-wing Kirchnerism in the central government.
Keywords: Populism, cultural policies, conceptualization, left and right wing, Argentina
The vague concept of populism has been defined as a political strategy, and aimed at grouping
scattered social demands on the basis of the creation of a hegemonic discourse where the idea
of people is confronted to the notion of elites (Laclau, 2005). This political strategy is far from
a new phenomenon, but during the last decades it seems to have expanded rapidly and
worldwide. The development and diversification of populism along the last years is usually
explained by multiple structural factors, such as the growing influence of new communication
technologies for political dispute, the economic crisis, or by the “exhaustion of politics” as tool
for solving new social demands in the context of neoliberal globalization (Hadiz and
Chryssogelos, 2017, Wodak, 2015).
But beyond the debate around the reasons leading to the emergence and recent
development of populism in particular contexts, there is consensus that communication and
culture are key elements for its deployment (Jagers and Walgrave, 2007). In fact, a fundamental
theoretical corpus supporting our conceptualization of populist strategies are Gramscian
theories of the hegemony along with Frankfurt School approaches to social dilemmas and their
control through media (Laclau, 2005). These traditions underline that both the construction of
This text is the final draft version before publication. Please refered as: Zamorano, M.M.; Bonet, L. (2018). “A
conceptual framework on right and left-wing populist cultural policies: similitudes and differences from the
Argentina case”, in M. Dragićević Šešić & J. Vickery (eds.) Cultural Policy Yearbook 2017-18. Cultural Policy
and Populism: the rise of Populism and the crisis of Political Pragmatism. Istambul: İletişim Yayıncılık, p. 75-
a “political and moral” direction for society and the empowerment of subaltern movements
require a media and cultural strategy able to represent multiple social groups, and so doing they
reshape the classic conceptions and methods of class struggle. In accordance with this idea,
cultural referents, artists and intellectuals have been crucial for the construction of social
alliances able to reach governmental power in the last century (Castells, 2009). Furthermore,
the emergence of so-called post-industrial societies, where the production and consumption of
the arts and culture acquire greater significance (Bell, 1976; Rodríguez Morató, 2007), and
where cities became protagonists (Bianchini, 1993), has made of cultural policies a
fundamental tool from this perspective -- as mediation that can contribute to filling the so called
“empty signifiers” in order to construct populist discourse.
But many changes have also occurred in the field of cultural policy. Since the 1980s,
various social, economic and political transformations have given way to a new geopolitical
order -- characterized by its multipolarity -- and contributing to the diversification of the areas
of action of cultural policy, as well as awarding it a renewed international importance.
Economic and technological globalization and the emergence of a post-Fordist state model
(Jessop, 2002) provide greater importance to the economy of culture in developed societies.
One of the particular effects of this transformation has been the progressive overlapping of
local cultural policy -- particularly that of large cities -- with communication policies and with
external cultural action (Zamorano & Rodríguez Morató, 2015; Bustamante, 2011). Moreover,
the new discourses that have framed this activity, such as creativity or competitiveness,
reaffirmed the transversal and systemic nature of communication and internationalization in
the management of the arts and culture (Florida, 2002; Balibrea, 2005).
Even though all these transformations are crucial for understanding the social change
and governmental agendas of recent years, the connections between cultural policies and
populism in different socio-political contexts have not been sufficiently analysed. On the one
hand, although literature on cultural policies have examined the political dynamics usually
relating to populism, such as instrumentalization and other implicit aims of these public action
(Gray, 2007; Shlesinger, 2009), the implementation of populist-oriented cultural policies in
representative multi-party democracy regimes have not been sufficiently considered. In France,
the French National Front's experience on local cultural policy has receive some atention,
remaining deeply rooted in a nativist understanding of culture and a dirigiste approach that
wilfully excludes postcolonial minorities (Almeida, 2017). In the case of Central and Eastern
Europe, only a few approaches have been done so far, underlining the relations between cultural
policies, identities and monument building (Dragićević Šešić, 2011). On the other hand,
populism theory has mainly been focused on solving the long debate about its definitions and
intrinsic elements and its cultural-policy aspects have been mostly relegated, and only some
authors have focused on this field but without reaching explanatory systematization
Aiming at filling this gap, in this article we seek to establish a preliminary analysis of
populist cultural policies in order to identify its characteristic variables. We will first define the
concepts of populism and cultural policy and advance some of its relations, constructing our
conceptual approach. Then, we will analyse the cultural policies developed by two Argentinian
governments that could been considered as populist: the case of PRO in the city of Buenos
Aires (2007-2017) and Kirchnerism, a fraction of Peronism, in the Argentinian central
government (2003-2015). This comparative and qualitative analysis is not aimed at obtaining
"extrapolable" inferential conclusions, but it is useful for assessing the existence of populist
cultural policies and, in positive case, clarifying the typological manifestations of populism in
public cultural action. Even though we are dealing with very different political projects in terms
of socio-cultural background and level of government, many common elements allow us to use
them as models of analysis. Firstly, these governments correspond to different national forms
of reaction to the institutional and political crisis that closed a neoliberal period in Argentina
at the beginning of the 20th century. Secondly, they have sought to organized reference models
in the field of cultural policies from very different ideological standpoint but having populism
as background strategy.
We will use the above cases in order to explore our hypothesis: there are no "populist
cultural policies" per se, but many approaches to the use of culture as tool for constructing
hegemony can be inscribed within ideal types of populist strategies. Finally, we will consider
the correlations between populism and cultural policies from the concept of political
representation in order to further understand which elements involve the populist strategy for
Framing populism: definitions and dominant approaches
There is no academic consensus in the definition of populism (Laclau, 2005; Laclau, 1978). In
any case, theoretical work around populism has a long history and an important development,
which is grounded in the theories of Gramsci about hegemony -- developed during the
beginnings of 20th century -- as well as many political manifestations since then. During the
seventies, some classical works seek to develop common grounds for illustrating populism,
based on the classification of its general characteristics. Gino Germani (1978), Donald MacRae
(1970) and Peter Wiles (1970) among others, outlined a series of political and ideological traits
of populist regimens. Nevertheless, these characteristics revealed a wide variability of factors
and, in some cases, some typological ambiguity. Canovan developed a similar comparative
approach, and she was able to clearer identify the common elements to the different studied
cases, underlining two basic ideas: the “call to people” dynamic in populism political
construction and its anti-elitist approach (Canovan, 1981: 294). Savarino followed a similar
line, and contributed identifying the key factors defining populist processes, such as the
existence of a charismatic leader that establishes a direct communication with the people
(Savarino, 1998). In this way, populist policies could have the capacity for conducting an
integration of the masses by way of a concept of community. Thus, populism is firstly framed
as a political strategy and underlying the construction of a hegemony within a political (usually
national) community, by opposing the people, which is directly interpellated by the leader, to
the economic and political elites. But, what are, if they exist, the ideological grounds of this
political strategy and this form of constructing of power? Different theoretical frameworks
have been developed around this question, but we will focus on two fundamental paradigms in
order to frame our analysis: post Marxism and liberalism.
Laclau is the most important post-Marxist theorist of populism and his postulates are
followed by many as schools of thought. Laclau put a greater value on the performative
character of populism over its ideological function, observing that it does not have a precise
ideological content. He indicates that “the language of a populist discourse - whether left or
right - will always be imprecise and fluctuating: not because of any cognitive failure, but
because it attempts to operate performatively within a social reality which is to a large extent
heterogeneous and fluctuating” (Laclau, 2005: 151). In this way, the author is recognizing the
diversity of society, beyond the traditional understanding of Marxist social class divisions, and
more focused on class antagonism. Populism is then characterized as a multi-class movement
with a strong leadership (Germani, 1978). This opens populist analysis and strategy to the
multiplicity of subjects disputing power positions (Laclau & Mouffe, 1985). Thereby,
according to this view, the articulation of very different social demands will be the other key
characteristic of populist strategy and its logical approach.
The concept of “people”, in the context Laclau's theories, indicates a concrete historical-
social formation conformed to the dominant role of a sovereign political entity. The propensity
of each political actor for reaching power in the context of a populist strategy is linked to their
respective capacity for “constructing the people” by grouping multiple unsatisfied demands
existing in society (Laclau & Mouffe, 1987). So, the construction of a dominant discourse,
capable to capture those demands in order to create hegemony, is crucial for the success of
populist projects. The changing definition of populism is, then, linked for Laclau to the
diversity of social interests, identities and needs that any society comprises. Consequently, it
involves the rhetorical construction of a popular identity (“us”) that is actually nurtured by the
social exclusions generated by the system, and is opposed to those in power (“they”). With this
aim in mind, two processes are developed: the expansion of the chain of equivalences
(horizontal moment) in the construction of discourse, while the stated symbolic articulation
unites diversity (vertical moment) (Laclau, 2005). In this way, the form of a populist project
will depend on the chain of meanings constructed and of those social groups mobilized by
them. In contrast, many liberal theorists and historical analysis related to such, have defined
populism in a pejorative manner (Edwards, 2010: 167; Williamson, 1992). The philosophical
basis of liberalism is a dismissal of any concept of collective interest (Shapiro, 1997) and
consequently of the usual weight attributed by populist theories to elected officials as the ones
who will define “the will of the electorate” (Riker, 1982). They therefore focus on criticizing
the existence of a charismatic leader with a strong capacity of directing a state, and who offers
quick solutions to the problems of social inequality (often defined as intrinsic to populism:
Krauze, 2005). However, in terms of populist organization and strategy, these authors have
framed populism in a similar way to Laclau: they construct a binomial discourse oriented to
forming majorities and that divides social reality between oligarchies (where corporations and
financial capital are included) and the people.
Still, underlying the common disapproval of this political understanding within part of
the liberal tradition is the lack of coherent agendas for solving the problems identified by
populist movements and the consequent existence of political manipulation and corruption
(Williamson, 1992; Drake, 1982). Within this "logical" framework, populism is characterized
by a certain disdain for representative democracy, rejecting the counterbalances of a political
system and the rule of law, and a division of power that prejudices minority rights (Jagers &
Walgrave, 2007). In the same vein, an increasing debt, higher unemployment or inflation, are
observed to be among the negative impacts derived from populist economic policies and
positioned as intrinsic characteristics of populist governments (Cammack, 2000).
In this framework, three key concepts for understanding liberal critical approaches to
populism are public opinion manipulation, clientelist policies and the weakening of
institutional systems (Hopkin, 2006). In terms of clientelism, while most populist approaches
defend the universalization of access to the public sphere and public debate, authors differently
understand how clientelism is inseparable from populist policies in practice (Auyero, 2001),
and which it may actually be against such universalization. Some groups could establish
corporate liaisons with the state, based on a clientelism that could disproportionately benefit
them over other social groups. According to this view, heavy state intervention in the private
sector may boost the clientelist dynamic (even though the actions of lobbies in many liberal
states could also be considered as clientelism: Filc, 2010). This conception of populism
underlines the capacity of the state in manipulating the masses in weak institutional systems or
the context of economic crisis (De la Torre, 2003:65). Lower classes and “disorganized
masses” are in this context easily mobilized and integrated through an alliance with a political
leader (Di Tella, 2007). All these processes would have a negative impact on parliamentary
democracy both in terms of corruption and concerning a “depolitiing effect” on society, since
political power is increasingly centralized in the figure of the charismatic leader (O’Donnell,
1994). Taking into consideration the differences between the above theoretical frameworks,
we bring together the two central described approaches in defining populism as a political
strategy characterized by the confrontation between “the people” and “the elites” -- on the basis
of a strong leadership that reflects the general will. However, differing from writers who reduce
this strategy to left-wing or interventionist states (Rodríguez Braun, 2011), we also agree in
considering populist strategies as they have been developed in Europe and Latin America as
part of democratic political projects -- representing a wide ideological spectrum, ranging from
neoliberal agendas to left-wing constituent processes (Weyland, 1996; March & Mudde,
Cultural policies and populism
National cultural policies historically emerged with the general purpose of reinforcing the
constitutive grounds favourable to the nation-state project through the construction and
dissemination of a specific national identity linked to heritage and artistic expressions.
Progressively, this policy was widened with a more systematic governmental support to
cultural actors and sectors. Both strategies were characterized by an attempt to increase the
access of "high" culture to growing populations, in itself an enlightenment paradigm shared by
most of the ideological spectrum in Europe and known as cultural democratization (Urfalino,
Right and left populism has a long tradition in Ibero-America (Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula), usually
linked to authoritarian regimes. The current situation, however, presents the particularity of taking on
representative democracy regimes, with government alternation with other political forces. There are many
degrees of populist governmental action, both on the right and on the left of the ideological spectrum. For this
reason, it would be little rigorous to consider the Venezuelan cultural policy of Chavez and Maduro equivalent to
those of Bolivia de Morales, Ecuador of Correa or Argentina of Kirchner. Also in the Spanish case, it is difficult
(and premature) to integrate the cultural policies of the municipal governments of Podemos and the coalitions of
the communes in the same group, despite recognizing that they drink from the same strategic sources. On the other
hand, the case of the Spanish People's Party (PP) has parallelisms with that of Latin American right-wing
governments, accentuated by the challenge represented by a nationalism questioned by the Catalan political crisis.
1996; Dubois, 1999). However, around 1968, a new paradigm emerged, cultural democracy;
social and cultural diversity was further to be reflected in public cultural action. Then, many
strategies of these policies, such as decentralization and participatory action, were aimed at
reinforcing the construction and transmission of popular expressions of culture alongside high
arts (Negrier, 2007). The Council of Europe and UNESCO disseminated such paradigms and
the praxis of European cultural policies to the Americas and Oceania, and to a lesser extent
towards the old colonies around the world (Poirrier, 2011).
But, even though this cultural development affected many national political systems,
cultural policies remained conditioned by their historical and political context. Some authors
propose complementary typologies to compare cultural policy at the international level.
Chartrand and McCaughey (1989) have distinguished four types of public policy orientations
towards the cultural sector that, in this order, manifests an increasing degree of state
intervention and control: the facilitating state, the patron, the architect and the engineer.
Zimmer and Toepler (1996) highlighted three models of cultural policy in terms of a welfare
state system: a) the liberal, a model characterized by weak state interventionism; b) the Central
European, characterized by the strong state support principally to high culture; and c) the
Nordic, a devolved social community-based approach to culture.
These models of cultural policy all refer to different degrees of state intervention in
cultural life, involving the level and form of control over artistic fields and cultural industries,
and to the aesthetic/identitarian orientation of “representational” policies (for example, whether
more or less nationalistic). In this line of thinking, the dimension of “representation” in cultural
policies is central for understanding the concrete manifestations of cultural policy. This
includes the territorial dimension of these policies, their governance and the capacity to reflect
public interest and boost social participation. In this sense, the proposal by Bonet and Négrier
(2011b) allows us to compare combining five cross dimensions of this issue: 1) main and
secondary institutional configuration (following Chartrand and McCaughey's framework); 2)
the relative weight of policy instruments (regulation, direct provision, incentive, information
and section); 3) distribution of responsibilities among levels of government; 4) stakeholder
value’s influence; and 5) explicit priorities, goals and values. Accordingly, and beyond the
cultural policy model in place, it has been considered that cultural policies involve some
democratic construction and participation of multiple actors in decision making processes, as
well as the generation of a cultural citizenship, which reinforces the links between cultural
policies and basic citizenship rights (Miller and Yudice, 2004). This requires an active state
intervention in the cultural field from a redistributive approach in order to guarantee equal
access to cultural goods and services.
However, during the last three decades, the developed world has witnessed the so-called
local and entrepreneurial turn of its cultural policies (Harvey, 1989). In this context, nation-
states have been losing their exclusive leadership in state cultural intervention due to the trend
of decentralization of local and regional governments, and of this policy and the development
of different public-private governance schemes (Menger, 2010). They have been set up to
pursue new social demands, as well as various economic externalities. The development of
neo-entrepreneurship in cultural politics has also been consistent with the contemporary
reconfiguration and de-hierarchization of the artistic field, and with the emergence of new
definitions of the creative industries that emphasize the economic value of culture in relation
to others its multiple values (Schlesinger, 2009).
The above models and paradigms of cultural policies has been interrelated with many
political approaches and strategies, including the populist ones. The historical models of
populist cultural policies had been developed during 20th century in the context of right and
left-wing authoritarian or totalitarian regims, including fascism and communism. Currently,
most populisms -- as well as their cultural policies -- have emerged in formal representative
democracies. In this context, the general instruments used by authoritarian regimes for
imposing their rule, such as censorship, creative coaction over artists, cultural institutions or
media, as well as the denigration of those heritage and artistic manifestations which are against
their populist project, cannot be imposed in an open and direct way. The existence of a
democratic legal framework supporting rights and fundamental freedoms relatively limits the
direct actions of the state over cultural agents. The freedom of political opponents is not
necesarially denied, but can be marginalized from collective or hegemonic discourse or from
public funding or simply can be denigrated in a relatively subtle way. Hence, as it has been
historically, the current construction of hegemony by using populist strategies, also in the case
of cultural policies, is far from having a predetermined ideological orientation.
However, we must consider that populist cultural policies from right and left-wing are
built on different paradigms. Thus, the way in which they orientate their policies and define the
interaction of the state with social and interest groups differs. Even though strategies and
specific instruments used by each of these populisms are often shared, their approaches to them
have their own nuances. This is true, not only in the context of each ideological spectrum but
also within each one of them, since within both there is a diversity of national and ideological
traditions. These orientations adapt or evolve depending on the relationship of existing forces
in each national situation or the level of government in which they are implemented. For
instance, a municipal cultural policy is not the same as one of national scope, since the
resources available and the approach to the target population change substantially.
On the one hand, the dominant model of cultural policies within right-wing populisms
is liberal-patronage, since freedom of cultural creation, consumption and production is usually
boosted by free market defenders. Likewise, the promotion of cultural entrepreneurship and
creative industries fits with this principle. However, two aspects use to contradict this liberal
approach. Firstly, right-wing populism must combine its support to cultural freedoms with a
sovereignty discourse oriented towards regulation. Secondly, in practice, populist right-wing
cultural policies use to actively instrumentalize public services and facilities -- from mass
media to libraries, museums, theaters or cultural centers -- to get their message across. It should
not be forgotten that much of the right-wing populism is shaped by cultural nationalism, insofar
as the interests and representation of the nation-state are confused with those of the political-
economic oligarchy and the high senior officials of the state. In fact, this can lead to an alliance
between private and public actors, both in terms of dominant content (thematic, symbolism or
authors) and in the formulas of management and provision of public services. These latter tend
to benefit big national media-cultural corporations, both domestically and within international
cultural action, as in the Spanish case (Rius Ulldemolins and Zamorano, 2015).
In terms of the relation between state leadership and people, the population, in particular
the middle social groups targeted by the populist political program, are considered more as
consumers than as autonomous citizens. In this sense, some of the more serviceable instruments
of any populist cultural policy, such as organizing major mass events, take in this case a clear
commercial orientation. The most fashionable artists and the "beautiful people" closest to
regime, are prioritized in this context. This and other similar strategies are also at the service
of building a new "us", against bad patriots or immigrants who do not want to integrate to
national culture. This assimilationist cultural policy is usually based on an idealized image of
the nation and the traditional family. The media-cultural and the educational policies, disregard
cultural diversity but wants to contribute to build a homogeneous national one.
Table 1. Strategic approaches to cultural policies by right and left-wing populism
● Cultural democratization
● Creative economy
● Cultural democracy
● Cultural nationalism: constructing
a new “us”
● Creative industries branding
● Free market
● Social-oriented nationalism and
patriotism: constructing a new “us”
● Cultural rights to traditional
● Private Media alliance
● Large cultural corporations
● Social organizations
● Cultural professionals
● Groups-oriented clientels
● Big events
● Intrumentalization of gov’t mass media and cultural venues
● Internet and social media
As regards to populist cultural policies developed by left-wing parties or movements,
beyond their national or even ideological differences, they broadly share the concept of cultural
democracy. From a bottom-up perspective, they discursively give value to those expressions
born from cultural communities, often marginalized by the dominant cultural mainstream (born
in the popular neighbourhoods, fruit of urban tribes that are diverse or originated from
indigenous, ethnic or ethnic communities. immigrants). In this context, cultural policies have
the mission of counteracting both the consumer's market pressure and subverting the
underlying ideology of the elites’ cultural expressions.
This last aspect entails, however, some contradictions insofar as most of the artists and
cultural professionals who are promoted share much of the values of the "high" Western
culture. Many of them participate in projects focusing on the paradigm of cultural
democratization; in other words, aimed at participating in avant-garde artistic expressions and
disseminating national heritage. These apparent contradictions, as mentioned for the case of
right-wing policies, reveal the instrumental dimension of populist discourse as part of a
political project. In this sense, the idea that there is no coherent and hierarchically superior
cultural product or expression that is necessary to be transmitted widely among an
undifferentiated set of citizens -- a key feature of the paradigm of cultural democracy (Bonet
& Négrier, 2017) -- does not fit with the goals of a populist policy. In spite of this, two aspects
differentiate the cultural policies of the traditional left of those from the populist left. On the
one hand, the defence of a nationalism of social orientation, which should be the basis of a new
popular patriotism. On the other hand, the (apparent) loss of prominence of centralized public
management in the context of government cultural facilities and services. The main allies of
these policies are artists committed to the cause, base social organizations and new urban
cultural policies (Barbieri, Fina &Subirats, 2012). These become the main protagonists of the
participatory processes that legitimize the popular cultural action or the "Commons"
(Bertacchini, Bravo, Marrelli & Santagata, 2012).
The vocation of these policies is to reach broad layers of population; the "people" that
is different from the elites, the "caste". As in right-wing populism, culture is put to the service
of building an alternative and new "us". Thus, in some cases, cultural policy will have as main
strategies promoting the creation of alternative myths (for example, designating new cultural
facilities with the name of popular leaders) or recreating old myths of marginalized
communities from a modern approach. In this context, the organization of major events helps
to strengthen the feeling of belonging to this new community, as well as to reinforce the themes,
symbols and names of the committed artists. But, to what extent is this strategy respecting the
rights of minorities and the cultural diversity of the communities that are intended to be
empowered? This is one of the many contradictions of left-wing populist cultural policies.
Another of the key aspects of 21st century populism is the use of digital technologies and the
internet. Facilitating access to these means is not only extremely popular, but it allows to
convey an image of modernity that the old left had lost.
Cultural policies in populist contexts: two Argentinian cases
In order to advance in the understanding about how the above explained evolution of cultural
policies relates to populist strategies, we have analysed two simultaneous cases of populist
cultural policies. Both of them are located in Argentina during the first decades of the 21st
Century, one on the left -- the Kirchnerist Peronism in the national government (2003-2015) -
- and the other on the right -- the PRO in the city of Buenos Aires (2007-2017).
Some historical backdrop is needed in order to frame our analysis. Since the end of the
19th century, the Argentinian political system was marked by an evolution that goes from the
establishment of a liberal dominated State -- with a pro-European civilizing concept of national
identity -- to the organization of multiple socialist or anarchist political forces and social
movements questioning this status quo and proposing new interpretations of national identity
(Degiovanni, 2007). After the institutional and economic crisis of the 1930s, the political
regime imposed by the conservatives went into a deep crisis that led to the emergence of
Peronism. This movement tried to build a third-position between liberalism and communism.
It has been considered one of most relevant models of populism (Laclau, 2005), led by the
charismatic general Perón. The policies developed during his elected governments (1946-1955)
would seek to industrialize the country by import substitution and also to modify Argentina
geopolitical position from an anti-imperialist standpoint. Although the federalization of the
governmental system and the progress of the State in various social matters functioned as
redistributive mechanism of an unprecedented scope, during its second period in office (1950-
1955) this process entered in a more authoritarian dynamic of power.
The three decades after the fall of Perón under a military coup, were marked by the
social and cultural repression exerted by the successive dictatorships. The developmental
project established since the sixties failed to articulate a cultural-national vision of the reach of
the Peronist discourse and the return to democracy led by radicalism in 1983, the other
historical party with a social-democrat program, was also marked by the dialectic and dispute
with the Peronist movement. But the incorporation of neoliberal agenda within Peronism
movement, during the governments of Menem (1991-1999), established new grounds for
political dispute developed after the deep social crisis and the default on foreign debt of 2001.
In this scenario, both PRO and Kirchnerism used opposite forms of populism, in a context
marked by the social reaction to neoliberalism mainly oriented towards sovereignty.
The cultural policies of Kishnerism in central government
Kirchnerism is a left-wing of Peronism that reach power with the presidency of Néstor Kirchner
(2003-2007) and continued with the two consecutive mandates of his wife Cristina Fernandez
de Kirchner (2007-2015). These administrations confronted neoliberal values and they
stablished a “neodevelopmentalist” populist economic model (Basualdo, 2011). The
government assumed an interventionist approach to public institutions and entered in 2008 in
a direct confrontation with corporate groups, in the context of the so called “farm crisis”
originated in an attempt of imposing new taxation to agro goods exports (Paramio, 2006). In
this context, the kirchnerism accentuated its populist strategy trying to construct a new
consensus about the “us” in order to effectevely confront the alliance between some agro and
industrial firms with the corporate media.
During these twelve years, cultural policies went through different phases. A first
period was characterized by the inclusion of actors external to Peronism to cultural
administration with a pluralist project that confronted many components of neoliberal period.
The first two Secretaries of Culture where relevant liberal and progressive intellectuals, who,
from different approaches, looked for a more active and participative intervention of the State
in the cultural sphere. José Nun, deployed some relevant projects in the fields of literacy,
intellectual debates and heritage or memory of dictatorship (Guglielmucci, 2013), opening also
the action of the National Secretary of Culture to intergovernmental programs and establishing
some attempts of federalization (Bayardo, 2015). On the other hand, other intergovernmental
programs aimed at manifesting an alliance between culture and human rights. They included a
review of the military dictatorship and issues such as judicial discrimination, the imprisoned
population or the freedom of the press (Pereyra, 2008). This first phase of cultural policies,
inspired in cultural democracy model, shifted towards a more communicational approach after
2007, within the framework of the national Bicentennial of independence.
A second period of cultural policies started in 2009 in the context of the above-
mentioned governmental dispute with corporatist groups. The government boosted two main
changes. Jorge Cosica, who was closer to Peronism, was designated Secretary of Culture.
Furthermore, the governement established its own media alliances and more control over public
TV and radio were developed in order to give what Kirchnermism designated as “cultural
. Furthermore, various initiatives promoted by journalists, intellectuals and artists who
supported the position of Kirchnerism were developed (Cavaliere et al., 2013: 8). Also, some
advances were made in terms of the reconceptualization of cultural policies from anti-
imperialist and cultural diversity approaches
. From then on, many cultural policy programs
with a social approach were established and a gradual empowerment of cultural policy
institutions was continued with the establishment of the Ministry of Culture in 2014. However,
this last evolution, did not solve the reduced budget in the sector and its limited capacity of
promoting federal action.
Thus, the cultural policy developed during kirchnerism gave continuity to many of the
its historical characteristics in Argentina: the lack of budget support, its concentration of
resources in the City of Buenos Aires (SINCA, 2013: 7), its marked federal lack of
coordination, and the lack of a strong institutional framework (Gregorich, 2006). Although
progress was made through digital inclusion, in the field of popular culture and in relation to
the legislative update in the areas of heritage and audio-visual, the policies developed were
limited with respect to the whole of social policy and in relation to other countries in the region
(Zurita Prat, 2012). This made it difficult to give place in the hierarchy to public institutions
that manage different sectors of culture. However, the different governments of the period
favored an extension of the definition of culture to be considered by the State, which translated
into widespread governance and active interministerial work. After 2007 the Government
mainly promoted various artistic and cultural initiatives that had, as platforms, major events or
access to mass media communication. This approach meant that the field of policy action was
diversified and popular access to its institutions was broadened.
The case of PRO cultural policies in Buenos Aires city
In 2007, the PRO won its first elections in the city of Buenos Aires with Mauricio Macri
Major. This was very significant for Argentine political history, mainly due to two factors. On
the one hand, PRO (standing for Republican Proposal) -- a political party founded in 2005
under the name of “Commitment to Change” -- was the first attempt of establishing a right-
wing party in Argentina, outside the traditional binomial established by Peronism and
Radicalismo parties. On the other hand, it was the first experiment of a political project
established by the economic elites in the country, able to win elections in an open and
democratic way (Casullo, 2012). In this regard, it should be noted that Argentina had never had
a right-wing option assumed as such, and whose basic social constituency was constructed from
an explicit right-wing ideological position.
Thus, the control of the capital and the most important city of the country -- both in
economic and strategic terms -- by PRO, was a key factor in the political scenario
. During the
In this line, Law 26,522, of the Audiovisual Communication Services was approved in 2009. It supported a new
norm that reserved 33% of the radio airways communication spectrum for organizations and civil society actors,
and also established other mechanisms aimed at avoiding media concentration.
In this tonic, for instance, the replacement of the denomination of the day of the race (October 12), for the "Day
of Respect for Cultural Diversity" was registered by means of Presidential Decree 1584/2010.
Macri is the son of a businessman from the building sector who possesses one of the most significant fortunes
in Argentina; he was a director of one of the largest automotive companies in the country, President of Boca
Juniors Football Club, and a recognizable celebrity.
Since 2015 an alliance led by PRO is governing the country, with Mauricio Macri as President.
nineties, the Peronist movement had been subsumed to the economic program of the
Washington Consensus and had favoured the interests of economic elites in the country.
According to Casullo (2012:47), PRO is established as an attempt of the economic elites to
organize an own political force outside Peronism, which after the economic crash of 2001 and
the subsequent deep political crisis, started to be controlled by Kirchnerism. So, the new party
had to establish its own program and strategic agenda in a scenario dominated by the historical
political and cultural heritage of Peronism and in a national context of expansive and
redistributive economic policies and growing social policies.
In this regard, the strategy of PRO in the city of Buenos Aires has been defined as a
right-wing populism or a neo-populism (located in between populism and liberalism) that
combines demobilizing and privatist dynamics and forms of interpretation of the relation
leader-people, with reduction of the public social services. According to Casullo (2012:47),
this is why “the media, especially the audio-visual media, displaced the public square as the
locus of the bond between leader and mass”. In economic terms, the PRO has followed the
pattern of right-wing populism: even the discourse against social exclusion is preserved, the
redistributive and interventionist character of the state is shifted into the opposite, and financial
recourses are channelled to economic elites (Weyland, 1996).
But, which have been the main characteristics of cultural policies deployed by PRO in
the city of Buenos Aires? Its three periods of government (2007-2011, 2011-2015 and 2015-
present) reveal some common elements. Budgetary reductions (along with some failed
attempts), the increased precarity of public jobs corresponding to this area, and a privatizing
tendency in all cultural sectors, were common trends. Cultural policy was also marked by the
repression of cultural spaces considered as alternative or popular (such as “milongas”) by
means of evictions or a series of closures, which were actively contested by social and cultural
organizations (Infantino, 2015:161; Raggio, 2013b). Instead, the action focus of cultural
policies was located within the “creative economy” framework (Florida, 2002) particularly in
cultural tourism, cultural branding, creative clusters and big festivals. It is very important to
consider how many of these policies, particularly concerning big events, were framed by the
City Council through a discourse of social inclusion (Infantino, 2015), on many occasions
concealing both its exclusionary-related effects and the gradual limitation of cultural rights
(Raggio, 2013a; Bayardo, 2013). From this contradiction many issues arise. The main
difference between a liberal cultural policy and the cultural policy developed by PRO in the
city of Buenos Aires is related to the form and not to the content. The need of justifying and
framing of goals, baselines and priorities, of elitist cultural action under the populist lens, leads
to creates a contradictory discourse of cultural policies and place these actions in terms of
inclusion and belonging.
Conclusions: Cultural policies and populism, representing who?
As mentioned above, all territorial cultural policies presuppose a certain “cultural
representativeness” as reflection of an ideal of society (Dubois, 1999). The set of elements
defined as "culture" and administered by the State, are inevitably manifested in specific modes
of relationship with the groups represented. In this way, cultural representation has this double
meaning: as a "symbolic representation" that seeks to express a specific definition of the
qualities of social space, and as a socio-political process that refers to a way of correspondence
between the state itself and the various sectors cultural, social groups and citizens. This process
of categorization and organization developed by the State can be established within different
cultural policy models and manifest different tendencies, ranging from democratization to
corporatism. In the case of democratic societies, cultural representation within cultural policies
should be considered as a public good (Hess and Ostrom, 2006) or be placed within the
framework of an obligation between representatives and the community (Schwartz, 1988) or
the electorate (Pitkin, 1967).
Thus, in the study of contemporary cultural policies, the complex way in which
governance manifests the balance between political representation -- comprised in the
principles of equality and rule of law -- and the degree of openness to social participation,
should be considered. However, governance in today's cultural policies also manifests various
types of corporatist or clientelist schemes that limit such community participation. Corporatism
has been characterized as a model of governance with: a) a strong and leading State, b) with
different restrictions on the freedom and activity of interest groups, and c) the "incorporation
of these interest groups within and as part of the state system, responsible both for representing
the interest of its members in and for the State, and for helping the State to manage and carry
out public policies "(Wiarda, 1996, p.8). As Wiarda (1996: 15) has pointed out, this model of
governance has been part of various political regimes, ranging from liberals to totalitarian,
where the social groups involved can have a relationship with the State that can range from
absolute control by part of it to contractualism.
So, we need to reconsider cultural policies in terms of the representation as emerging
from these relations. Our approach to cultural policy seeks to clarify the processes of
articulation, insofar as it establishes various links of collaboration and conflict between
representative and represented. From the historical point of view, it is possible to notice a
general evolution towards the autonomization and expansion of cultural policies, characterised
by a larger pluralism and capacity for socio-political interaction. In this way, the governance
of culture, as public policy, should actively pick up the voices and perspectives of citizens in
its elaboration. In this line, cultural democracy paradigm has been reshaped as consequences
of globalization and as a response as the strategies of development and defence of cultural
diversity (UNESCO 1995; Bonet Négrier, 2011a). The implementation of the 2005 UN
Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, even
though its intrinsic difficulties (Vlassis, 2011) it is a good example of this trend. In recent years,
cultural policy has also welcomed a new interpretation with the rise of "cultural commons"
approaches (Bertacchini, Bravo, Marrelli & Santagata, 2012; Barbieri, Fina & Subirats, 2012).
Its original purpose was to emphasize the empowerment of citizens as active subjects and
stakeholders in public policies (Polityczna, 2015) by giving value to assembly decisions taken
by active collectives and citizens. However, in the opposite direction, we have outlined how
the emergence of a corporatist and privatizing dynamics has occurred. Thourgh the legitimating
discourses of competitiveness and creativity, such dynamics have led to this representation to
be constituted based on economic and geopolitical precepts that are part of the external agenda,
through various alliances of public elites.
As we saw in the above Argentinian cases, the groups to be represented by cultural
policies in populist regimes are greatly dependent on specific and contextual constructions of
“the elites” and “the people” within cultural policy discourse. Following our conceptual
framework for left and right-wing cultural policies developed within populism, we have found
that PRO and the Kirchnerism have developed some common strategies and instruments of
cultural policy, which could be examined under the concept of populism. They present a certain
contradiction between the integration discourse they promote and the general importance given
to sectorial cultural policies as public services. They manifest a general accent on industry and
creative cultural policies -- mainly to media -- as elements for constructing hegemony, even
though PRO developed this from a modernization and entrepreneurial approach and the
Kirchnerist government from a popular and cultural rights discourse. Something similar
happens with other cultural policies which are close to this sphere such as big events or large
cultural venues, for instance the Colon Opera Theatre and the Nestor Kirchner center. However,
these two policies also reveal some differential factors. The construction of “us” or “people”
through cultural policies is focus on different cultural definitions. While kirchnerism located
its symbolic support in some popular artists, actors or intellectuals and opened cultural policies
discourse to many subaltern groups, such as cultural base organizations of the neighbourhoods
and social collectives, PRO put its attention on a discourse of “us” oriented towards ordering
the city appealing to the common sense of the neighbor/citizen, and constructing on this basis
barriers for many of these grassroot organizations with this purpose.
In this regard, even though populism has been defined as a “form of moral politics”
(Mudde, Kaltwasser, 2012:8) where the distinction between ‘the elite’ and ‘the people’ is
mainly moral “(i.e. pure vs. corrupt)”, we understand that populist cultural policies confirm the
importance of socio-cultural (including ethnicity and religion) and socio-economic (class)
crosscutting variables for this form of power construction. Many class, gender, ethnic or other
social groups are targeted by populist cultural policies. This transversal concept of cultural
policies, integrated in the historical model of cultural democracy, defines a conception of
political representation but also shows that the contemporary “construction of people” finds in
cultural diversity approach one of its central strengths. However, a cultural policy integrated to
a populist strategy can open and close public sphere to multiple social groups depending on the
concrete definition of “the people” in place. It also provides central strategic and discursive
elements that can favour the grouping of demands by using cultural policies for “filling or
reinforcing signifiers”. Hence, this strategic approach to cultural policies can be reflected in
multiple models and governance systems ranging from elitist, clientelist or corporativist to
participatory cultural interventions. In this way, although we confirm our hypothesis regarding
the nonexistence of populist cultural policies, we also understand that both left-wing and right-
wing parties can strengthen their symbolic hegemony in the arenas of public communication
and opinion by deploying a populist approach to cultural policies. These strategic approaches
go beyond the actual character of cultural intervention, which can even be completely against
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