A relational approach to heterodox versus orthodox positions in contemporary cultural policy debates

Mehdi Arfaoui (2020)

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 7, n°151, pp. 1-11.

Abstract. This article examines the categories of orthodoxy and heterodoxy in regards to their use by many authors to position themselves within a research field. By doing so, it attempts to offer original methods for systematically addressing the morphology of a specific field of research. Particularly in economics, establishing one’s position in a field of research is often portrayed in terms of their alignment to orthodox or heterodox perspectives. However, this positioning within categories of “orthodoxy” or “heterodoxy” generally contain implicit political assumptions that are infrequently made explicit. The use of these categories typically implies dominant and dominated positions in a given research field, as well as suggests conformist versus nonconformist approaches to mainstream policy. Consequently, as these overburdened categories are rarely unpacked and explained by those who rely on them, delineating an orthodox versus heterodox viewpoint is nearly impossible. The hypothesis underlining this paper is that, more than the content of the academic production itself, belonging to the heterodoxy or the orthodoxy can be explained through the interpretation by the actors of their own position, as well as the type of relationship they cultivate in the field. The study is based on the exploration of more than 3000 pages of academic production on the topic of cultural policy, following an academic debate from 2000 onward between 11 different authors from various disciplines on the “creative industries turn of cultural policies”. After providing background on the case study as well as a presentation of the research sample and methodology, the paper explores whether a more granular interpretation of orthodox and heterodox positions in a research field can be described. Firstly, a discourse analysis will show how orthodox versus heterodox positions can be depicted through the subjective interpretations by authors of their own position in the field. In this debate, self-proclaimed heterodox-positioned authors tend to represent themselves as a minority in their research field, having difficulty accessing and influencing political decision-making processes. In contrast, orthodox-positioned authors tend to perceive their academic production as unpolitical and their analysis as objective and pragmatic in opposition to “militant” heterodox research. This first “subjective” analysis is followed by illustrating how this binary can be described “objectively” by systemizing citation links between the authors. The demonstration allows a clear segregation between orthodox and heterodox positions, but also displays significant variations in the relationship structure between both fields. The work concludes on the analytical possibilities brought by this relational approach. More importantly, this paper concludes that scientific dominance or political influence need not only to be explained as radical epistemological differences invoked by heterodox and orthodox positionality, but also by the interdependence of the authors belonging to these categories. Overall, this paper aims to draw attention to a potential research agenda that uses a more dynamic understanding and categorization of heterodoxy and orthodoxy.

Extract. “In mobilizing the notion of justification, I explicitly refer to the idea, developed by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot in De la justification (Boltanski and Thévenot, 2006), that the social order “stands” because of an imperative of justification “on which rests the possibility of coordination of human behavior”. In their work, Boltanski and Thévenot formalize systems of shared equivalences—which they call “grammars”—allowing the actors of the social world to find forms of agreement, whatever the situation. They thus developed a series of “cities” that can be described as grammatical sets, or conventions, recognizable by interacting individuals.” (note 1)

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