Whose Canon? Culturalization versus Democratization


  • Erling Bjurström Department of Culture Studies, Linköping University, Sweden




Canon, canon formation, canons of fine art, canons of popular culture, culturalization, democratization, differentiation, dedifferentiation


Current accounts – and particularly the critique – of canon formation are primarily based on some form of identity politics. In the 20th century a representational model of social identities replaced cultivation as the primary means to democratize the canons of the fine arts. In a parallel development, the discourse on canons has shifted its focus from processes of inclusion to those of exclusion. This shift corresponds, on the one hand, to the construction of so-called alternative canons or counter-canons, and, on the other hand, to attempts to restore the authority of canons considered to be in a state of crisis or decaying. Regardless of the democratic stance of these efforts, the construction of alternatives or the reestablishment of decaying canons does not seem to achieve their aims, since they break with the explicit and implicit rules of canon formation. Politically motivated attempts to revise or restore a specific canon make the workings of canon formation too visible, transparent and calculated, thereby breaking the spell of its imaginary character. Retracing the history of the canonization of the fine arts reveals that it was originally tied to the disembedding of artists and artworks from social and worldly affairs, whereas debates about canons of the fine arts since the end of the 20th century are heavily dependent on their social, cultural and historical reembedding. The latter has the character of disenchantment, but has also fettered the canon debate in notions of “our” versus “their” culture. However, by emphasizing the dedifferentiation of contemporary processes of culturalization, the advancing canonization of popular culture seems to be able to break with identity politics that foster notions of “our” culture in the present thinking on canons, and push it in a more transgressive, syncretic or hybrid direction.


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Theme: Culturalisation at an Australian-Swedish