[Re-blogged from New Books in Critical Theory]
In his new book Making Culture, Changing Society (Routledge, 2013), Professor Tony Bennett aims to change the way we think about culture. The book uses four core ideas about the nature and meaning of culture to present a view that does not see culture as just a set of signs and symbols. Rather culture is a form of knowledge practice, bound up with material conditions and institutions, which is implicated in the production of persons and freedoms. Making Culture, Changing Society justifies this view of culture in two ways. In the first instance the book considers how specific humanities disciplines, associated with anthropology and aesthetics, have been used to distribute ideas of freedom and ideas of the person within liberal government. Bennett uses examples from anthropological studies of colonial societies, along with discussions of the role of aesthetics for theorists such as Pierre Bourdieu, to show the function of culture and its interdependence with forms of knowledge. At the same time the book insists on the material aspects of these discussions, using the example of Melbourne’s National Museum of Victoria and Paris’ Musee de l’Homme.
The book offers an important intervention into debates on culture and public policy, grounding questions of rights and representations within the historical project of liberal government. Moreover it develops a critique of the assumptions surrounding culture as a potentially positive or beneficial force for social change, raising profound questions for public, politics and policy.