Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The market for ethics: Culture and the neoliberal turn at UNESCO
by Fawcett, Michelle, Ph.D., New York University, 2009, 506; 3380290
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation seeks to contextualize and theorize the institutionalization of public–private partnerships at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Once considered a radical organization by the U.S. government, UNESCO now partners with corporations to launch projects that claim, among other things, to promote cultural diversity, bridge the digital divide or build intellectual property regimes. From peace to development as its institutional goal, from state to market as its mechanism of delivery and from the universal citizen to the local entrepreneur as its subject, UNESCO is undergoing a dramatic shift in organizational focus, one better designed to serve corporate interests than foster public debate about the meanings and uses of culture.

Though proponents bill partnership as a utopian solution to paralyzing conflicts of the past, I argue that it is a neoliberal response to neoliberal crisis. U.S. withdrawal from the organization was part of a policy to eviscerate international organizations as sites of challenges to U.S. hegemony, which eventually drove UNESCO to the private sector for funding, while neoliberal fallout led to protest against the private sector, which then sought to purchase the appearance of ethical behavior. This situation gave birth to what I call the "market for ethics": UNESCO and the private sector exchange forms of value to gain legitimacy and thus institutional survival, but in so doing they reproduce the same failed neoliberal paradigm in developing countries that initially led to the quest for partnership.

This dissertation will examine how culture is mobilized as a promising new resource in the market for ethics. Chapter One traces the historical battle over uses of cultural discourse at UNESCO, which eventually led to a role for the private sector at the organization; Chapter Two illustrates how the practice of corporate culture at UNESCO helps to embed the partnership agenda; Chapters Three and Four show how corporations use the discourses of cultural diversity and cultural universalism to expand market share through partnership with UNESCO. Each newly forged connection between culture and the market remains inherently contradictory, however, producing discursive openings for the creation of alternatives to the neoliberal paradigm.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: McCarthy, Anna
Commitee: Martin, Randy, Miller, Toby, Polan, Dana, Yudice, George
School: New York University
Department: Cinema Studies
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: International law, Mass communications, Film studies
Keywords: Corporate social responsibility, Cultural diversity, Neoliberalism, Public-private partnerships, UNESCO, United Nations
Publication Number: 3380290
ISBN: 978-1-109-50740-9
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