Trade, Culture and the New Politics of Cultural Development at UNESCO

  • Ben Garner

Student thesis: Phd


In the late 1990s an attempt got underway to develop a new paradigm for cultural development policy at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The fruit of these efforts was the adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which entered into force in 2007. This binding international treaty has been welcomed for restoring a degree of cultural policy sovereignty to states against some of the pressures of contemporary globalisation, and celebrated for burying some of the political differences between North and South that had pulled UNESCO apart in the 1970s and 1980s. As an instrument with widespread political support the Convention on cultural diversity has also marked something of a landmark event in the more general controversies over the nature of contemporary cultural change and the role of cultural policy in the era of neoliberal globalisation.This thesis is a response to these developments over the last decade, based on a series of studies looking at the processes that led to the formation of the Convention and examining some of the effects of the new framework as they are becoming apparent in the first years following its adoption and entry into force. It looks in particular at the precise points of consensus between North and South that have been found in the new framework of cultural development, examining some of its measures and the way they are coming to feature - or not - in the work of international development agencies, policymakers and cultural industry stakeholders. These observations are developed through two main case studies looking at contemporary attempts at cultural policy reform in China and the Caribbean. The thesis also attempts to offer an alternative perspective to the legal and international relations analyses that have surrounded the Convention and its political controversies so far by approaching them within the framework of social and cultural theory, engaging in particular with recent claims about the transformation of culture into a "resource" for trade and development in the new global economy. I argue that the new framework tends to conflate cultural rights and recognition with the right of the state to protect and promote activities that it deems worthy of recognition on cultural grounds: this has offered a welcome development to those that have come to have a privileged role to play in the contemporary concern to promote enterprise, production and trade in the knowledge-based economy of content and intellectual property creation, but it has also tended to weaken the position of others whose claims to cultural recognition are inseparable from demands which have little or no protagonism in this framework.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMichael Savage (Supervisor) & Nicholas Thoburn (Supervisor)


  • Cultural development
  • Cultural diversity
  • Cultural policy
  • Neoliberalism
  • Trade and culture debate
  • WTO

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