Subjective well-being in cultural advocacy: a politics of research between the market and the academy.

Susan Oman, Mark Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper responds to a trend of contracting-out subjective well-being econometrics to demonstrate social return on investment (SROI) for evidence-based policy-making. We discuss an evolving ecology of ‘external’ research taking place ‘between’ the academy and commercial consultancy. We then contextualise this as waves of research methodologies and consultancy for the cultural sector.

The new model of ‘external-between’ consultancy research for policy is not only placed between the University and the market, but facilitates discourse between policy sectors, government, the media and the academy. Specifically, it enables seductive but selective arguments for advocacy that claim authority through academic affiliation, yet are not evaluated for robustness. To critically engage with an emergent form of what Stone calls ‘causal stories’, we replicate a publically-funded externally-commissioned SROI model which argues for the value of cultural activities to well-being. We find that the author’s operationalisation of participation and well-being are crucial, yet their representation of the relationship problematic, and their estimates questionable.

This case study ‘re-performs’ econometric modelling national level survey data for the cultural sector to reveal practices which create norms of expertise for policy-making that are not rigorous. We conclude that fluid claims to authority allow experimental econometric models and measures to perform across the cultural economy as if ratified. This new model of advocacy research requires closer academic consideration given changing research funding structures and recent attention to expertise and the contracting out of public services.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cultural Economy
Early online date14 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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