‘A city without a living culture is nothing more than an economic rack on which to break people’
: Community, Politics and the Economy in the Cultural Policies of the Greater London Council 1981-86

  • Lucy Ellen McFadzean

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis offers a thorough re-examination of the Greater London Council’s cultural policies between 1981-86 and is the first to assess the Cultural Industries Strategy alongside their wider arts funding interventions. Through an examination of the Council’s cultural policymaking, it assesses how the British Left’s relationship towards culture changed in the late Twentieth Century and asks how the legacies of this period might help us reimagine state intervention in culture today. Sitting at the intersection of history, politics and cultural studies, it is a social history of changing attitudes to culture on the Left, charting the transforming ideologies, radical community experiments and legacies of the GLC. In this sense it is a history of the radical GLC’s cultural policies, as well as an offer to reimagine cultural policymaking through the ‘GLC moment’. In looking specifically at the film and video organisations the GLC supported, I look at the work of their Community and Ethnic Arts Sub-Committees, alongside the Cultural Industries Unit. I show how the Council fostered an agonistic cultural ecology and built a common cultural infrastructure in the city. This account of the radical cultural experiments of the GLC advocates for local, community centred cultural interventions that work in and against the state, and in and against the market. In recent years cultural policymaking has been criticised for its precarious, unequal working practices, its place in the uneven regeneration of places and displacement of communities, amongst much else. This has led to many calls to change our thinking around how we support culture, the people who make it, the institutions who fund it, the communities and places who engage with it. In this thesis I offer the ‘GLC moment’ up as a way of thinking through how cultural policymaking could be, and arguably was, done differently.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorJamie Medhurst (Supervisor)

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