From Spiritual Matters to Economic Facts: Recounting Problems of Knowledge in the History of Canadian Audiovisual Policy, 1928-61

Ira Michael Andrew Wagman
Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
January, 2006
 

Abstract

Using a theoretical model incorporating recent work in the field of historical epistemology and Michel Foucault’s concept of governmentality this dissertation reconsiders key moments in the history of Canadian audiovisual policy as sites for examining the production of knowledge about national cultural activity.
Drawing upon archival records, interdisciplinary research and a discursive analysis of policy documents, I argue that the resolution of questions regarding the nature of cultural expertise and the evidentiary value of different forms of knowledge accompanied changing state rationale towards film and broadcasting and foreshadowed the refashioning of Canada’s audiovisual sector.

To illustrate, I focus on a period between the establishment of the first Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting in 1928 and the institution of Canadian content regulations for television in 1960. During this period there are important shifts in the ways the federal government conceived of and administered the audiovisual sector. In the 1920s and 30s, broadcasting and film production were nationalized and placed within publicly funded institutions such as the CBC and NFB. However, less than twenty-five years later, policy rationale towards the audiovisual sector had shifted, with measures put in place to support the development of the cultural industries. The CBC’s dominance over broadcasting and regulation had been replaced by a new structural arrangement involving both public and private broadcasters regulated by independent agencies using content quotas to ensure Canadian programming on the airwaves. In Canada’s film sector, the NFB’s expansion into feature film and television production was halted through policy shifts encouraging the development of the independent film production sector.

Using case studies that explore the historical context behind the emergence of key administrative techniques I document the declining influence of cultural nationalists and humanistic approaches to cultural issues and the rising influence of accountants, statisticians, and scholars from the nascent field of communication studies in the policy process. These developments run concurrently to shifting government rationale towards the audiovisual sector away from developing “national consciousness” towards the creation of a “national economy” for broadcasting and film drawing on previous industrial development models borrowed from the automotive sector and 19th century National Policy.

Although scholarly attention in the field of cultural policy studies has generally focused upon understanding why these shifts occurred, this thesis is devoted primarily towards understanding how such shifts took place. Attention to these questions moves the field of study away from the pragmatic issues of policymaking and towards larger questions surrounding the triangulation between knowledge, state, and cultural production.
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