3.Defining culture

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The term 'culture' is value-laden and can be defined in many ways. Broadly described, culture can include economic systems, political ideologies and processes, ways of life and social mores, educational institutions, social programs, the environment, technological systems, recreational practices, customs and traditions, artistic and heritage activities, transportation and communication industries, and religious and spiritual activities. However, these notions of culture are too general to be useful in delineating the scope of culture for statistical purposes.

3.1 The definition of culture

A definition for statistical purposes establishes boundaries around what is included or excluded. The choice of boundaries can have a significant impact on what one measures. A broad definition will result in data that overlaps with other areas of statistical inquiry (e.g. ethnicity, tourism, education). The framework adopts a distinct definition of culture, which does not embody other fields of activity.

No standard definition exists for culture that is used for statistical purposes internationally. In order to provide a suitable structure, a Canadian definition was developed for the 2004 framework. That definition:

  • supported an official statistical concept of culture, rather than other, often broader, concepts of culture;
  • explicitly and narrowly defined culture in terms of its goods and services;
  • was supported by criteria that defined what is culture;
  • was a pragmatic summary of the goods and services that met the stated criteria for culture, and
  • was illustrated by appendices that included lists of categories from standard classifications, of industries, products (also known as goods and services) and occupations.

A definition should rest on a fundamental logic that will withstand challenges, yet still to have a long 'shelf-life', through a flexibility that will encompass changes in the policy environment or respond to technical improvements in data collection and analysis. The definition of culture must also meet the needs of users. Clearly, if it is to inform only economic activity, public funding, or participation, then the definition might be quite different. The definition must serve several purposes and accord with generally accepted wisdom.

The concepts of creative industries, artistic industries and culture industries have all been examined and ultimately rejected, due either to a focus that was too narrow (exclusions of heritage, design or architecture) or too broad (inclusion of all forms of commercial activity related to the manufacture of tools and equipment). In the end, the revised Canadian framework retains the definition of culture developed by Statistics Canada in 2004 with one change, the omission of the term 'human' from the term 'heritage', in order to better describe the broader scope of heritage, including natural heritage, in the Canadian context.

For the purposes of this statistical framework, the Canadian definition of culture is:

Creative artistic activity and the goods and services produced by it, and the preservation of heritage.

This definition casts the net loosely around the meaning of culture, using groupings (called domains) which categorize culture goods and services, industries and occupations conceptually to bring precision to the framework. No single criterion is available to determine which goods and services are in scope for culture; a variety of criteria is necessary to pin down those that meet the definition.

3.2 Rationale for the definition of culture

Culture is not an explicitly recognized industry within the Statistics Canada system of economic data; it is 'synthetic' as no single industry category embodies all culture activities.

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) groups industries based on the similarity of input structures, labour skills, and production processes. The unit of observation of NAICS is the producing unit or the establishment, and the industrial classification is primarily a grouping of producing units, not products. For example, NAICS disperses culture across categories such as "Information and Cultural Industries" and "Arts, Entertainment and Recreation." Thus, culture is a synthetic industry in that culture activity is located in a number of industries where only portions of activity serve culture.1 The framework defines what parts of culture activity are included or excluded in the definition of culture.

Traditionally, culture is defined by the characteristics of its outputs (goods and services) and its creators. While some elements of culture correspond to the industry approach, others do not. The need to study market shares or the demand for products is met by compiling data relating to the products produced by industries and using a product classification based on demand-oriented criteria to group products by markets served. This framework uses the classification of goods and services from the North American Product Classification System (NAPCS).

This framework defines culture goods and services in a relatively narrow way that reflects the classification systems used at Statistics Canada, but also includes some products that meet the criteria but are not available in existing classification systems. The product classification systems provide good coverage for most culture goods and services but they currently do not identify explicitly and define some culture products such as those related to interactive media, or artisanal crafts.

The framework is intended to be neutral and objective. It opts for an approach that does not evaluate the aesthetic or intellectual worth of a product, any aspect of its production chain or the motivation behind its production. As a result, a wide variety of culture products is defined as culture, as long as they meet the stated criteria.

The framework also considers all culture creation, whether by amateurs or professionals, to be in scope. Culture products will be counted if they are accessible to consumers at some stage in the creative chain through economic transactions or other means.

Our approach deals with the full scope of the creative chain, from both social and economic perspectives. It is neutral as to the funding and governance that supports culture production and use, treating both the public and private sectors, and the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors as long as they meet the stated criteria. Finally, the model acknowledges that culture products and activity are found in both the formal and informal economies; quantifying the value of the informal economy is difficult to do at present, but its measurement is an ultimate goal of the framework.

The terminology used to describe culture in the framework has been chosen to reflect long-standing usage at the Culture Statistics Program at Statistics Canada. Thus terms such as 'culture statistics', 'culture industries' or 'culture sector' are used, rather than the terms such as 'cultural statistics', 'cultural industries' or 'cultural sector,' that may be used in other jurisdictions. In cases where the reader finds reference to 'cultural' as an adjective, such as in 'cultural heritage' it is either because the context requires it, or other sources have been quoted.


  1. "NAICS has not been specially designed to take account of the wide range of vertically- or horizontally-integrated activities of large and complex, multi-establishment companies and enterprises. Hence, there will be a few large and complex companies and enterprises whose activities may be spread over the different sectors of NAICS, in such a way that classifying them to one sector will misrepresent the range of their activities." (Statistics Canada 2007a, Introduction)
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