What is the Value of Value?

Reflecting on the idea raised in my previous blog, of professionalism being linked to payment, I thought on Bill Readings claim that ‘what is at stake is no longer the nature of value but its function’.[1] The term ‘value’ has commercial implications, but also suggests a thing that is cherished. Writing about art and culture, George Yúdice states that ‘theorists and critics came to define art in contradiction to the commercial’[2] which implies that the scarcity and relative inaccessibility of art assigns ‘cherished-value’, and therefore capital value, even as the mass-production of popular culture creates capital.

Andy Warhol's work played with ideas of production and re-production, and 'high' and 'low' culture.
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Edward W. Said writes that ‘the mass media have reduced the sources of intellectual legitimacy’.[3] The wider the audience, the less authentic an artefact is perceived to be: in order to appeal to a mass audience, in academic writing, concepts may be simplified and reduced, therefore made less academic and more popular. This is also referred to when he writes that academics often use ‘an esoteric and barbaric prose’ which I have previously referred to as the school of academic writing which believes ‘why use one word when twenty will do’. Making work less accessible, and therefore more elite reflects the idea that popularity is often associated with poorer quality.

George Yúdice writes that ‘culture is increasingly wielded as a resource for both socio-political and economic amelioration … the cultural economy, is also political economy’.[4] Cultural capital provides soft diplomacy,  but at the same time there is in an increase in a fluid culture that crosses cultural boundaries, driven by forces such as globalisation and the widespread infiltration of Euro-American White culture. He also discusses different cultural understandings of the role of culture, writing that ‘The French… have long argued that film and music are crucial to cultural identity… U.S. negotiators have countered that film and TV programs are commodities…’[5] Is culture inherent to a cultural identity, or is it merely merchandised; a thing that is created to be marketed and monetised?

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Going back to the question of ‘value’, Readings writes that ‘Value is a question of judgement, a question whose answers must continually be discussed.’[6] What do we mean when we talk about ‘value’? In what sense of the term? How do we understand the value of culture, unless as a marketable opportunity which can be easily quantified?

[1] Bill Readings, ‘The Posthistorical University’ in The University in Ruins (London: Harvard University Press, 1997) pp.119-134 (p.119).
[2] George Yúdice, ‘The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era’ (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004) p.10.
[3] Edward W. Said, ‘Professionals and Amateurs’ in Representations of the Intellectual (London: Vintage Books, 1994) pp.65-83 (p.66).
[4] Yúdice, ‘The Expediency of Culture’, p.9-17.
[5] Yúdice, ‘The Expediency of Culture’, p.18.
[6] Readings, ‘The Posthistorical University, p.134.


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