European inventory of
societal values of culture


Digitalisation as a megatrend has undoubtedly shaped societies and individuals in such ways and to such an extent that it is now hard, if not impossible, to distinguish between the digital and other spheres.

Although digitalisation and digitisation are often used interchangeably, they are analytically distinct concepts. One can define digitisation as the technological process of converting analogue material into digital data, while digitalisation refers to the societal process that shapes social domains according to digital and media infrastructures.

Digitalisation and its influence can be seen at different levels – macro, meso, and micro. These levels are highly interrelated since they share a digital infrastructure and logic. At the macro level, digital society is defined in terms of technological infrastructure as well as the organization, governance, and structuring of different publics. At the meso level, organizational and institutional logics and processes are increasingly digitised. At the micro level, in citizens’ daily lives, digital media are omnipresent and play a central role in both public and private settings. 

The digitalisation of culture is often connected to broader conceptualisations of culture, such as the ideas of creativity and participation. Likewise, digitalisation has been said to support both the democratization of culture  and cultural democracy. In this line of thought, digitalisation is thought to lower the threshold for citizens to gain access to, create, and participate in culture.

Building on this belief in the value of digital technologies, digitalisation has become an important part of cultural policy discourses since the 1990s. In these discourses, digitalisation is seen as a major development and driving force in societies, but it is also instrumentalized for the purpose of facing some of the challenges dealt with for several decades, for instance, in relation to audience development. The digital has thus become an imperative of various cultural policies that have supported a digital agenda in responding to societal and cultural changes.

Scholars in the fields of LAM (Libraries, Archives, and Museums) and media studies have pointed out that digitalisation is increasingly shaping cultural institutions and production. For instance, digitisation of cultural heritage materials (e.g., museum, library, and archive collections and databases) has led to a convergence in collection management, enabling the merging of digitised collections that had previously been separated due to different institutional areas of responsibility. 

Digitalisation has also introduced more direct ways for cultural institutions to interact with their audiences and users. This facilitates a larger variety of engagement with cultural heritage and cultural products. Moreover, cultural policies have taken on the task of digital education and skills development, as well as digital inclusion. These tasks and initiatives come as a response to growing inequalities in digital literacy and skills, which represent a major challenge for modern societies, and are usually referred to as ‘the digital divide’. 

It is important to note that digitalisation at the macro level is shaped by commercial processes that follow the logics of private, commercial tech companies. These processes include platformisation, datafication, and surveillance capitalism. Likewise, digitalisation is inseparable from commercial and economic ideas of innovation, which have become a focal point of discussions surrounding digital cultural policy. 

The increase in commercial platforms and logics that are shaping cultural production and distribution has become a central focus for different cultural policy bodies integrating regulatory frameworks for technological and digital production. For instance, in July 2017, the UK’s Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) added the word ‘digital’ to its title. In Denmark, the Ministry of Culture added a ‘tech’ office to their organization.

Digitalisation thus introduces new agendas, imperatives, and regulatory needs for cultural policy. These are characterized by a convergence, or arguably a hyperconvergence, of technology, sociocultural and economic values, and policy areas. This has led to the emergence of the notion of ‘digital cultural politics’ (Valtýsson, 2020), which indicates a convergence between cultural policy, media policy, and communication policy.

Overall, the intersection of digitalisation and cultural policy is a dynamic and evolving field that seeks to apply digital technologies to preserve, promote, and democratize cultural heritage, creativity, and artistic expression in the digital age.

Key terms connected to digitalisation and cultural policy include digital cultural policy, platformisation, datafication, deep mediatization, convergence, converging regulation, digital cultural participation, digital access, and digital cultural heritage.

The results of research undertaken within the INVENT project suggest that European citizens attribute a central role to digital media in their everyday lives; they consume a broad variety of (digital) cultural content and participate in numerous digital cultural activities. However, digital divides seem to persist and affect both how people perceive digitalisation in general and their possibilities for participating in cultural and civic life. (NNK, EPM, FM)


See also:  Digital Culture; AI and Cultural Policy