“On Veridiction: Metrologies of Art in the European Welfare State”

Project presentation at the Foucault Circle annual meeting, hosted this year by the Loyola Marymount University. The conference paper is being made ready for publication. In the meantime, this is the conference abstract:

In this paper, we elaborate on Foucault’s term “veridiction” and explore how it illuminates the recent developments in governing the arts in European Welfare States. Veridiction is basically a calculus, which measures governmental intervention to ensure that the intervention is of the right kind and intensity. Since Foucault’s analysis, the instruments of veridiction have evolved considerably. This development, we believe, warrants an analysis of its own. Borrowing the term metrology from Latour, we hope to expand Foucault’s analysis of veridiction in ways that illuminate contemporary neoliberal governmentality.

In Biopolitics, Foucault develops veridiction along two lines: the market (exchange) and the public authorities (utility), which together form the principal “interplay of interests” in liberal and neoliberal governmentality (45). Further, the market becomes something like “nature,” a site and principle of veridiction (verification-falsification) of liberal governmental practice. Foucault talks about the process of veridiction developing in the 18th century involving “a number of technicians who brought with them both methods and instruments of reflection” (33), but he never elaborates on the details of these methods and instruments in Biopolitics. Instead, he traces liberal and neoliberal governmentality as a “number of economic problems” that are “given a theoretical form;” for instance, he delineates how the council brought together by Erhard in 1947 successively paved the way for the abolition of price-controls in Germany, or how the analysis of “human capital” by Schultz and Becker produces the notion of the “entrepreneur of himself” (33, 80ff, 226ff). Ultimately, Foucault’s analysis develops a link between economic activity and political sovereignty that joins exchange and utility. This joint, we argue, is developed concretely in the instruments of veridiction. Understood as metrologies, such instruments constitute a critical but under-examined development of neoliberal governmentality. Our case will be the metrologies of art and culture in the European Welfare State.

In a Welfare State context, the governance of art and culture has been comparatively exempt from sustained references to the market, and thus from the processes of veridiction. However, recent decades have seen this situation change. In the 1960s and 1970s most European states formed Ministries of Culture and they quickly developed concrete forms of governmental intervention in the arts. At first the focus was on policy goals such as democratization and increased access to excellent art together with allocations of funds for these purposes. More recently, however, the focus has been on developing cultural policy into industrial policy, and into policies of sustainability and social cohesion. In this respect, the market is now undeniably an important site of veridiction for the governance of art and culture.

And here, precisely, we find the most heated contemporary debates about the arts and culture: what should act as the “nature” against which the right level and type of intervention is measured? Should the arts and culture be managed in the name of merit goods, such as shaping “reflective individuals,” producing “engaged citizens,” helping “peace building and healing after armed conflict,” creating “vibrant urban life” and improving “health and well-being”? And if so, how is this calculated? Or should the arts belong more strictly to an economic calculus and be a feature of city development and the creative economy with trackable knowledge, industry and network spillovers such as “facilitating knowledge exchange and culture-led innovation,” “boosting innovation and digital technology,” and “creating an attractive ecosystem and creative milieu for city branding and place making”?


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