The established and the outsiders: legitimacy and economic niches of the four generations of Saint Petersburg cultural organizations
This paper analyses the post-Soviet evolution of the sector of cultural organizations in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The study relies on a combination of qualitative (semi-structured interviews with employees of 34 cultural organizations of St. Petersburg) and quantitative (pile sorting) methods of data treatment, as well as synthesizes approaches from theories of organizations (organizational ecology, neo-institutionalism) and cultural studies and sociology of culture (Bourdieu, DiMaggio) to analyse the successively emerging waves of organizations. We show that the organizations can be divided into four waves, with the oldest ones existing from Soviet (and sometimes Imperial) times and the newest emerging during the economic boom of the early 2000s. The waves differ primarily in the degree of legitimacy resulting from their abstaining from or participating in a wide range of market activities. The aristocratic establishment extracting resources from ‘pure’ sources enjoys much greater prestige and, ultimately, economic security, than those who have to use less approved sources. Our general conclusion is that the ‘birth order’ is primarily responsible for the ability of an organization to occupy a desirable economic niche. Thus, the oldest wave occupies the most favourable niche, possessing the greatest legitimacy and receiving generous support from public and private foundations, while later waves had either to restrict their economic activities to prove their belonging to artistic field (second and, partially, third waves) or to combine different artistic (exhibitions, performances, and film screening), academic (lectures and seminars) and commercial (café and shops) activities within one public space, which, however, greatly undermines their legitimacy and deprives them of most sources of public funding. Ironically, the newer organizations embrace and translate the opposition between ‘pure art’ and ‘commerce’, which dooms them to suffering in a vicious circle of illegitimacy.