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State Policy and Public Culture


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State Policy and Public Culture

This part of the site examines the Films of Scotland Committee's commitment to "the national interest", and its relation to the mechanics and legitimation of state authority. Both Committees existed at only an arm's reach from the state. They were initially set up, funded and appointed by central government, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Development Council to supervise and develop activity in areas of public interest. Thus despite the fact that the press releases of the second Committee usually flag up the fact that the Committee is privately financed and is not the recipient of a government grant, the second Committee was started up with a 'gift' of 10,000 from the Minister of State at the Scottish Office, Sir Hugh Fraser (Films of Scotland, 1960, February 19, p. 1), by strange coincidence the Committee's Honorary Treasurer. Similarly, while membership of the Committee was voluntary, almost half of the Committee in 1962 had either a CBE, an OBE, or an MBE, and alongside Sir Hugh Fraser were his colleagues from the Scottish Information Office, the Scottish Home Department, and the Scottish Council (Development and Industry).

Sir Hugh Fraser
Sir Hugh Fraser, the Committee's Honorary Treasurer and Minister of State at the Scottish Office, with Edward Heath and Michael Noble at Central Hall in Glasgow, 1964.

But why would the Scottish Office want to create a Quasi Autonomous Non Governmental Organisations (QUANGO) devoted to the production of documentary film, a QUANGO that acted as a public relations department for Scottish industrialists, the tourist industry, and various other QUANGOS? There are a number of things at stake in the state's economic and administrational investment in Scottish documentary production, and as institutions, both Films of Scotland Committees fit neatly into the history of public cultural policy in Britain since at least the mid nineteenth century.

Art, Morality and the Exhibitionary Complex

Prior to the mid-nineteenth century the majority of European fine art celebrated wealth as a symbol of a divine or social order, and this is reflected by both the patronage of artists by the religious hierarchy or aristocracy, and the audience for artistic works, the religious community and the aristocrat's peers (Berger, 1972). Nicholas Pearson (1982) argues that with the foundation of the Royal Academy in 1768, the first British cultural QUANGO, state involvement began to shape both the nature and the practice of the arts as part of a public culture, where the culture of the arts became bound up with new forms of morality and spiritual values (pp. 1-47). Pearson argues that the State's desire to patronise the Arts was part of an effort to shape public taste, knowledge and education.

Walter Scott extract
Sir Walter Scott: The Practical Romantic (1969). Scott's antiquarian collection at Abbotsford is typical of the type of private collection that was transfered into the public domain of the museum.

This ideology was given its own physical institution with the establishment of the National Gallery in 1824, the first art gallery in Britain open to the general public, complete with special opening times for the working classes along with instructions on how to dress and behave.

Tony Bennett (1988) argues that State intervention in the Arts was part of a more general phenomenon which included the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the opening of the South Kensington Museum in 1857. This phenomenon, 'the exhibitionary complex', developed from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century and involved 'the transfer of objects and bodies from the enclosed and private domains in which they had been previously displayed (but to a restricted public) into progressively more open and public arenas' (p. 74).





A Pride of Penguins
Edinburgh's 20th century zoological collection is documented in A Pride of Penguins (1977).

In the Scottish context, this shift is exemplified by the history of what is now known as the National Museums of Scotland. The National Museums of Scotland was the product of the 1985 National Heritage (Scotland) Act, which amalgamated two existing museums; the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Museum. The National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland was set up in 1780 to house two private antiquarian collections. In 1826 the state provided the society with an exhibition space in the art gallery at the foot of the Mound in Edinburgh, later moving the collection to its current location on Queen Street. The Great Exhibition of 1851 financed the formation of the Department of Science & Art which in turn set up the Industrial Museum of Scotland (later called the Royal Scottish Museum) in 1854, in order to encourage 'the Progress of the Useful Arts'. In the 1860s the museum amalgamated with the Natural History Museum and Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art, which again was largely composed of hitherto private mineral, zoological, and botanical collections and specimens (Anderson, 1989). Like Pearson, Bennett argues that the State's apparently benevolent democratisation of cultural exhibition was bound up with the transformation of the public order problem into one of culture, and that museums, art galleries and national exhibitions should be understood as part of an educative and civilising cultural technology (p. 84).

Highland Crafts extract
Photographer Oscar Marzaroli's Highland Crafts (1973) celebrates some of Scotland's 'useful arts'

Anthony Giddens (1987) has argued that surveillance is one of the central features of the modern nation-state's regulation of its (human) resources. Surveillance, for Giddens involves not only 'the accumulation of 'coded information', which can be used to administer the activities of individuals about whom it is gathered', but also 'the direct supervision of the activities of some individuals by others in positions of authority over them' (p. 14). State intervention in public culture must therefore also be understood in the context of the institutional peculiarities of the modern state itself. But Giddens' notion of surveillance needs to be modified in this context. Drawing on Foucault, Bennett argues that the ensemble of disciplines and techniques of display employed by the museum were meant to serve as object lessons in power where the public not only become subjects of knowledge but are themselves part of the spectacle, their actions disciplined by the surveillance of other members of the orderly public:

The exhibitionary complex [...] perfected a self-monitoring system of looks in which the subject and object positions can be exchanged, in which the crowd comes to commune with and regulate itself through interiorizing the ideal and ordered view of itself as seen from the controlling vision of power - a site of sight accessible to all. It was in thus democratising the eye of power that the expositions realised Bentham's aspiration for a system of looks within which the central position would be available to the public at all times [the panoptican], a model lesson in civics in which a public regulated itself through self-observation. (p. 82)

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Author: Richard Butt Images are drawn from the SCRAN database.