Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies

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Culture and development

Our creative diversity
Two views of development
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) Culture and development
The fragmented global culture

Human development as defined above refers to the individual human being, who is both the ultimate objective of development and one of the most important instruments or means to it. For an alert, skilled, educated, well-nourished, healthy, well-motivated labour force is the most productive asset of a society. People, however, are not self-contained atoms; they work together, co-operate, compete and interact in many ways. It is culture that connects them with one another and makes the development of the individual possible. Similarly, it is culture that defines how people relate to nature and their physical environment, to the earth and to the cosmos, and through which we express our attitudes to and beliefs in other forms of life, both animal and plant. It is in this sense that all forms of development, including human development, ultimately are determined by cultural factors. Indeed, from this point of view it is meaningless to talk of the "relation between culture and development" as if they were two separate concepts, since development and the economy are part of, or an aspect of, a people's culture. Culture then is not a means to material progress: it is the end and aim of "development" seen as the flourishing of human existence in all its forms and as a whole.

If, on the other hand, one rejects this all-embracing definition of culture and instead confines its meaning to "ways of living together," and if by "development" one means "the widening of human opportunities and choices," then an analysis of culture and development refers to a study of how different ways of living together affect the enlargement of human choices. A country's culture is not static or changeless. On the contrary, it is in a constant state of flux, influencing and being influenced by other cultures, either through voluntary exchange and extension or through conflict, force and oppression. A country's culture therefore reflects its history, mores, institutions and attitudes, its social movements, conflicts and struggles, and the configurations of political power, internally and in the world at large. At the same time it is dynamic and continually evolving.

It is for this reason that attempts to make culture a qualifier of development, as in the notion of "culturally sustainable" development, must be undertaken with great care. It should not be interpreted in such a way as to confine culture to the role of an instrument that "sustains" some other objective; nor should it be defined so as to exclude the possibility that the culture can grow and develop. It should not be given an excessively conservationist meaning. Unlike the physical environment, where we dare not improve on the best that nature provides, culture is the fountain of our progress and creativity. Once we shift our attention from the purely instrumental view of culture to awarding it a constructive, constitutive and creative role, we have to see development in terms that include cultural growth.

A country need not contain only one culture. Many countries, perhaps most, are multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-ethnic and contain a multiplicity of languages, religions and ways of living. A multi-cultural country can reap great benefits from its pluralism, but also runs the risk of cultural conflicts. It is here that government policy is important. Governments cannot determine a people's culture; indeed, they are partly determined by it. But they can influence it for better or worse and in so doing affect the path of development.

The basic principle should be the fostering of respect for all cultures that themselves tolerate others. Respect goes beyond tolerance and implies a positive attitude to other people and a rejoicing in their culture. Social peace is necessary for human development: in turn it requires that differences between cultures be regarded not as something alien and unacceptable or hateful, but as experiments in ways of living together that contain valuable lessons and information for all.

More is at stake here than attitudes. It is also a question of power. Cultural domination or hegemony is often based on the exclusion of subordinate groups. The distinction between "us" and "them" and the significance attached to such distinctions is socially determined and the distinctions are frequently drawn on pseudo-scientific lines so that one group can exercise power over another and justify to itself the exercise of that power. Distinctions based on "race," "ethnicity" or "nationality" are artificial, without any basis in biological differences. A policy based on mutual respect rests therefore on a large body of scientific evidence.

In a world that has become familiar with "ethnic cleansing," religious fanaticism and social and racial prejudice, the obvious question is how hatred can be replaced by respect. Policy-makers cannot legislate respect, nor can they coerce people to behave in a respectful manner. But they can enshrine cultural freedom as one of the pillars on which the state is founded. The legislature, the judiciary and the executive can implement the principles of equality, civil rights and cultural freedom.

Cultural freedom is rather special; it is not quite like other forms of freedom. First, most freedoms refer to the individual -- freedom to speak one's mind, to go where one wishes, to worship one's gods, to write what one likes. Cultural freedom, in contrast, is a collective freedom. It refers to the right of a group of people to follow or adopt a way of life of their choice. It is true that some forms of group pressure can be stifling and oppressive, and can deny individual freedom. Accepting group rights may also involve connivance in the denial of rights to stigmatized members of that group, as occurs in many caste societies. But these are corruptions of collective rights. Cultural freedom properly interpreted is the condition for individual freedom to flourish. It embraces the obligations that are embedded in the exercise of rights, the bonds that have to accompany options. Core individual rights are situated in a social context. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his or her personality is possible.

Second, cultural freedom, properly interpreted, is a guarantee of freedom as a whole. It protects not only the collectivity but also the rights of every individual within it. Individual rights can exist independently of collective rights, but the existence of collective rights, of cultural freedom, provides additional protection for individual freedom.

Thirdly, cultural freedom, by protecting alternative ways of living, encourages creativity, experimentation and diversity, the very essentials of human development. Indeed, it is the diversity of multi-cultural societies, and the creativity to which diversity gives rise, that makes such societies innovative, dynamic and enduring.

Finally, freedom is central to culture, and in particular the freedom to decide what we have reason to value, and what lives we have reason to seek. One of the most basic needs is to be left free to define our own basic needs. This need is being threatened by a combination of global pressures and global neglect.

Our creative diversity
Two views of development
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) Culture and development
The fragmented global culture

pijltje_beneden.gif (179 bytes) Our creative diversity
Report text
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) A new global ethics
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) A commitment to pluralism
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) Recasting cultural policies
Background Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development

Claude LÚvi-Strauss:

When we speak of world civilization, we have in mind no single period, no single group of men: we are employing an abstract conception, to which we attribute a moral or logical significance -moral, if we are thinking of an aim to be pursued by existing societies; logical, if we are using the one term to cover the common features which analysis may reveal in the different cultures. In both cases, we must not shut our eyes to the fact that the concept of world civilization is very sketchy and imperfect, and that its intellectual and emotional content is tenuous. To attempt to assess cultural contributions with all the weight of countless centuries behind them, rich with the thoughts and sorrows, hopes and toil of the men and women who brought them into being, by reference to the sole yard-stick of a world civilization which is still a hollow shell, would be greatly to impoverish them, draining away their life-blood and leaving nothing but the bare bones behind

The true contribution of a culture consists, not in the list of inventions which it has personally produced, but in its difference from others. The sense of gratitude and respect which each single member of a given culture can and should feel towards all others can only be based on the conviction that the other cultures differ from his own in countless ways, even if the ultimate essence of these differences eludes him or if, in spite of his best efforts, he can reach no more than an imperfect understanding of them.

The notion of world civilization can only be accepted therefore, as a sort of limiting concept or as an epitome of a highly complex process. There is not, and can never be, a world civilization in the absolute sense in which that term is often used, since civilization implies, and indeed consists in, the coexistence of cultures exhibiting the maximum possible diversities. A world civilization could, in fact, represent no more than a world-wide coalition of cultures, each of which would preserve its own originality.

Claude LÚvi-Strauss

our creative diversity