Book review / Cultural Theory and Concepts

The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries

By Jan Baetens

The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries

Eds Kate Oakley and Justin O’Connor

New York: Routledge, 2015, 575 p.

ISBN-13: 978-0415706209

Hardback, $142.55

There are many reasons to consider this book, for now alas only available in a hardback, library-only version, the most important publication in cultural studies of the year 2015. True, the scope of this collection is not cultural studies, but at the same time it makes very clear how much the current reflection to the cultural industries owes to existing work in cultural studies as well as political economy – the former having a strong focus on issues of representation, popular culture, and minorities, the latter being centered on the role of media and communication systems in the organization of capitalist systems. In all recent scholarship on cultural studies, the gradual merger with political economy has become more or less self-evident, which can only be seen as a wise and sound evolution.

routledge companionThe same can also be said of the increasing proximity, if not merger of the fields of cultural studies and cultural industries. The best available handbook at the time being, David Hesmondalgh’s The Cultural Industries (3 successive editions since 2002) is very clear in this regard, and here as well this is an evolution that can only be welcomed. There is, however, an ongoing mix-up of the notions of “cultural” and “creative” as far as the “industries” are concerned. Besides the many qualities of the separate contributions in this incredibly rich and very up to date overview, Oakley and O’Connor’s book also proves invaluable in demonstrating the necessity to avoid any confusion between creative industries on the one hand and cultural industries on the other hand.

Not an easy task, given the profound vagueness of both terms (“culture” is everything, and who doesn’t want to be “creative”?). Yet the difference between both types of industries can be neatly explained in two ways. It is first of all internal: creative industries have as their target the production of ideas, techniques, goods and services, that can be legally protected as “intellectual properties”, which is not necessarily the case in the cultural industries. But it is also, if one can say so, external: the goal of a creative industry is to make money (and the authors of this book are clever enough to stress that there is nothing wrong with this), whereas the basic horizon of a cultural industry is not automatically such (many cultural industries try for instance to “produce culture” rather than to make profit in the first place).

The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries is therefore a publication that can be cited as a model to all modern cultural studies research. It offers a broad synthesis, not only of the various cultural industries that exist today, but also – and more importantly – of the various theoretical and disciplinary frames essential for a correct understanding of what is happening in this field. In addition, and this is no less crucial, it also makes a strong plea for the cultural specificity of these industries, always in danger of being absorbed by the economically more interesting branch of the creative industries.

(Another reason to recommend the reading of this book is the strong presence of the work by our former MA student Christiaan De Beukelaer, currently teaching at Melbourne University whose publications are mentioned no less than 6 times in the general introduction.)