Manchester and the Problem of the City

Cultural Capital and the City: reflections on Manchester

“This chapter reflects on how we can register the relationship between the city of Manchester, its cultural institutions, and the wider social and cultural space in which it is positioned. My aim is to resist an influential temptation to render the writ of urban culture as set by the great metropolitan cities which reads urban culture elsewhere in terms of how far it measures up to its standards. But I also want to avoid the obvious counter strategy, where those positioned from subordinate cities accept the terms of reference set by the metropolis and seek to ‘redeem’ the neglect of that city’s cultural life through rectifying the ‘neglect’ of their cultural life.

In the manner of the three quotes at the front of this chapter, I seek an alternative framing which is attentive to the different cultural stakes involved in cities such as Manchester. I therefore question the value of three ways of reading urban culture, none of which adequately renders the creativity of the city. Firstly, I question the association of urban culture with ‘modernist’ high culture. During the course of the 20th century, ‘highbrow’ urban culture became increasingly associated with those cities which were central bases of artistic modernism, and I explore how this marginalised Manchester. Secondly, I argue that to elevate the city as a site of popular culture is also problematic, because its popular heartlands are usually located not in the heart of the city, but in the industrial city region which surrounds it, in the former textile towns which straddle the Pennines. Finally, I reflect on the problems of a social science justification in which the city is defined as a location of ‘social problems’

Within any of these terms of reference, the city of Manchester necessarily fails to ‘measure up.’” Read further: Cultural Capital and the City: reflections on Manchester