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3. CULTURES AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT

1) Cultural action in Central America: rebelling identities
2) Civil society and social transformation in Congo
3) Reciprocity North/South and East/West
4) Economy, business management and local cultures
5) Health and cultures in Europe
6) Cultural dynamics in urban districts in the South and in the North
7) The role of cultural values in creating just, democractic and sustainable societies in Asia
8) Culture and human rights for children
9) Methodology for social and cultural analysis and action
10) Arts, society and intercultural understanding
11) Languages and intercultural communication
12) Identity, democracy and local development



1) Cultural action in Central America: rebelling identities

Also: see under the same rubric in French on this site.

2) Civil society and social transformation in Congo

The organisation of African populations according to western models (cooperatives, various development projects, multi-party parliamentary democracy) has not achieved the desired results. However, African social dynamics is strong outside of the recognised structures and out of the reach of states and external bodies (NGOs etc.).

Tradition and local culture influence social realities and its evolution. It is essential to promote social activists sensitive to these socio-cultural dynamics and able to stimulate participative action-oriented research which aims to empower communities to promote themselves. The representative of Network Culture's regional base in Africa, Badika Nsumbu, brings together African and africanist actors and researchers to discuss these issues.

See also on this site the French text (same rubric).

3) Reciprocity North/South and East/West

Development belongs to the same logic (paradigm) as colonisation and globalisation. It is deeply steeped in modern materialism/competitiveness/economism/utilitarianism as known in the West since the 18th century. Today we need a new paradigm and to learn from each other rather than imposing one single definition of "civilisation". Reciprocity, on the basis of mutual respect for our cultural differences, may be that new paradigm. Reciprocity (learning from each other), instead of old-fashionned and paternalistic "development co-operation" may be at the origin of renewed solidarity world- wide, so as to achieve more social justice and more respect for the earth.

See also on this site the French text (same rubric).

4) Economy, business management and local cultures

The thematic research programme "Cultures and Economy" raises such questions as: How does culture determine the behaviour of humans as producers, savers and consumers? In what way can it provide alternatives to the dominant economic system? Does it propose endogenous solutions to social and economic exclusion, unemployment and poverty?

The first workshop was held in Glasgow in 1991, dealing with alternatives to the dominant economy, based on experiences recorded in Germany, India, Scotland, Cameroon, Brazil, the Netherlands etc.

"Management and African Cultures"

A research was made over several years with 20 African and some European researchers examining business management practices in the French-speaking African countries and the Magheb. It brought to the fore the extent to which economics and management are determined by values, sentiments, perceptions and customs. Economic "laws" are not universal and neutral but are dependent on culture. "The embededness of economic practices": Capitalism is cultural not naturalThe research project brought together people from all continents and cultures so as to explore if and in what way the globalising economy is actually imposing its single-minded profit and competitiveness orientation on peoples' mind. In North and South alike it is very obvious that the presently dominant form of ultra-liberal capitalism is by no way universal. Capitalism is not natural. It is cultural. This research highlights how local social and ethical norms and customs influence economic rationality. Experiences are drawn from such diverse countries as Colombia, China, Germany, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Costa Rica and Russia.

Alternative money: the "lets" in Mexico

See also: LA OTRA BOLSA DE VALORES on this site. Also: see under the same rubric in French on this site.

5) Health and cultures in Europe

In Europe, many people continue to reproduce habits, at the risk of distroying their health or that of their family. Groups resist to the doctor's recommendations. Maybe people in charge of health promotion do not take the culture of the people enough into account.

"Good health" has not the same meaning for all of us. It is influenced by (and has an influence on) our experiences, our relationship to the medical discourse, to our social and economic environnement. Pain is linked to a story, to subjective reactions. Illness is, first and foremost, experienced in life, imagined, "represented". It exists on an affective and cultural level and not just on a scientific level.

The scientific vision of the human body as it is proposed by western medecine is one approach among others. Other medical models are actually not really exterminated and continue to be alive in society. Faced with modern scientific medecine,.people are sometimes unable to"appropriate" their health. Their body is given up into the specialists' hands.

In this context, how do people create their autonomy? What kind of choice do they have?

We would be interested to study how to promote awareness of persons who are in charge of health promotion (about their own conception of health, pain and illness) and how to discover the capacities of persons and communities to become responsible subjects with regard to their own health.

We wish to facilitate the confrontation between the "vernacular" knowledge and the "scientific" one.

Also see under the same rubric in French on this site.

6) Cultural dynamics in urban districts in the South and in the North

The workshop "Are North and South that different?", organised by the regional base in Europe, the Belgian NGO ITECO and the Belgian and Quebecois federations of street workers, was based on experiences in Luanda, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, Bangalore, Montreal, Brussels and Poitiers. The main purpose was to identify cultural dynamics in socially troubled urban areas and work out how to handle these dynamics. The workshop also aimed at tackling the similarity and diversity between North and South, both at the levels of analysis and collective action to be undertaken. This led to an exchange of experiences and constructive criticism of action-oriented research and of community development based on local socio-cultural dynamics. The reflection on cultures and conflicts in Europe will be carried out in the years to come.

See the special issue of our journal in this topic: Cultures and Development N° 27/28.

7) The role of cultural values in creating just, democractic and sustainable societies in Asia

This programme which was organised in collaboration with the Alliance for a Responsible and United World. The coordinator of Network Cultures Asia, Siddhartha, was the joint coordinator of the workshop along with Bishop Julio X Labayen of the Philippines.

One 1998 workshop was concerned with experiences, insights and strategies from the Asia-Pacific region that could go into the development of a global approach which could provide hope and concrete tasks for the next century. The meeting underscored the reality of globalisation that was now part of the daily life of people in the region. Globalisation was now largely at the service of the elites in the Northern countries and, even there, controlled by the Transnational Corporations.

This kind of globalisation was going to exclude large sections of the Earths population from a dignified and honourable existence. Besides, it was also going to make human life tenuous from an ecological point of view. In many parts of the Asia-Pacific region pollution of air, water and earth was creating serious health problems, particularly for the poorer sections of the population who are directly exposed to these effects. In Manila, participants noted that life had become precarious for a lot of poor people because of poverty and pollution. In New Delhi each year 10,000 people die on an average due to pollution related illnesses. If 10,000 die each year in New Delhi, it was noted, then almost everybody in the population was effected. Even if they did not die they were half-dead, three-quarter dead, one tenth dead or one fiftieth dead. Apart from mounting medical bills this state of affairs was seriously effecting the quality of life of all sections of society.

It was also underscored that many of the efforts of social activists had borne fruit and created the conditions for deepening democracy, enlarging civil society, creating gender consciousness and developing large-scale ecological awareness. Unfortunately the globalisation process had the potential to co-opt creative alternatives. It was noted that many social activists themselves were seduced by the process, even if they were unwilling to admit it. What this meant was that we needed the inner resources to withstand the negative effects of globalisation and foster positive directions. Where would this strength come from? Bishop Labayen made the distinction between 'truth known' and 'truth experienced'. Many of us know what the answer to a particular problem is, but as long as we have not experienced this truth ourselves, it does not carry conviction with us, and we are unlikely to act in a determined and concerted way. Therefore we have to experience the truth of our being and activities if our work has to make an impact.

Siddhartha provided a complementary metaphor from Indian tradition: the metaphor of the bow and arrow. The force and distance of an arrow's trajectory will depend on how far inward it is drawn. Likewise the effectiveness of the journey outward will depend on the quality of the inward journey. What are these inward trails that we must learn to make and nurture if we are to enable the 21st century to be more liveable, more human and more just? The workshop came to the conclusion that these journeys should be an integral part of social action. The journeys could be inspired from the spiritual masters in the Asia-Pacific region or from other regions, and from modern insights and experiences as well. The participants felt that Asia-Pacific partners of the Network Cultures Asia and the Alliance for a Responsible and United World would strongly emphasise the journeys in the republic of the spirit to give coherence, strength and hope to the tasks that the twenty first century must urgently address.

Various sub-regional workshops and activities were planned out for the year 1999 as a follow-up to the workshop.

8) Culture and human rights for children

In September 1998 (3-6th) the Human Rights Foundation of Osaka and the National Commission for Human Rights organised a four-day workshop in New Delhi. Network Cultures was invited as the only resource organisation for the workshop. Siddhartha acted as resource person and made a presentation on the role of cultural values, both traditional and modern, in fostering or retarding the development of Human Rights awareness and action in the region. Justice Venkatachalliah, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, inaugurated the workshop. As a follow-up it was decided to organise country-wise workshops to extend human rights education in schools in the sub-continent( Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and India). It was realised that a lot of work needed to be done to develop curriculum models that would be culture-specific to respective countries, cultural areas and communities.

9) Methodology for social and cultural analysis and action

How is the connection between culture and development made? Is it possible to put into practice the collective knowledge gathered by Network Cultures? How to change ways of building development cooperation and ideas of planning, partnership and outside support for local initiatives? What is the best way to identify current socio-cultural dynamics and how can donors, educators, social workers, planners, agronomists, doctors, urbanists etc. take them into consideration? These questions on methodology come from NGOs in the North and South, from public cooperation agencies, civil servants and field workers. Once the importance of the often neglected cultural aspect is understood, Network Cultures is asked for the appropriate tools and methods to identify this dimension in development projects.

A workshop held in 1992 critically examined and amended ten cultural analysis tools used in development cooperation.

Another workshop (Brussels 1995) studied urban areas troubled by violence and social exclusion in the North and South. It resulted in questions concerning action: how to find an alternative course of action once the cultural dynamic has been identified. "micro-meso-macro" interaction was also questioned: how can the daily experience (micro) of people be recorded and synthesised in a way that respects the diversity of their experiences? How does one usefully communicate these results to decision-makers (macro)? What exactly can be the role of an intermediary NGO or social worker (meso-level)?

The preparation of pedagogical tools relating to the methodology continues by capitalising the knowledge and experience of the members and by integrating the conclusions of the methodology of socio-cultural analysis sessions which took place worldwide.

10) Arts, society and intercultural understanding

European NGOs, anxious to overcome the often wretched image propagated by the media, are organising an increasing number of events dedicated to the arts from non-industrialised countries. They aim to show the cultural wealth of the South. But which arts do the organisers choose? Which artists? Who judges the quality of the works? Although these efforts are to be applauded, do they have the required effect on the public? How much do these artistic expressions conserve their significance once they are removed from their socio-cultural and historic roots? What passes through the mind of Europeans when they watch African dance, listen to Andean music or admire Asian paintings? Do they change their preconceived ideas, formed over the centuries, of peoples from different cultures?

The reactions of the public, artists, organisers and development educators were collected and analysed at a workshop held during the Images of Africa festival in Copenhagen in June 1993. This meeting gave rise to a questioning of the way these artistic events are organised and staged. During a second workshop in 1995 this research was carried further through an exchange of experiences between thirty artists, event organisers and donors (Brussels, "The Arts and Intercultural Understanding". A third international workshop will take place in Austria during the Sura Za Afrika Festival in June 1996. Fifteen Austrian and foreign participants will evaluate the effect of the Festival on the public. Reflection continues on appropriate methods which take into account the questions mentioned above. A further workshop in 1997 will examine the results of a number of evaluations of these cultural events, carried out using common analytical tools.

Also see under the same rubric in French on this site.

11) Languages and intercultural communication

On past form, the application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a prime example of how - leaving aside politicians' scandalous failures to live up to their undertakings - a text framed in one or two of the languages of international communication does not have the same connotations for all groups of people coming from different historical and cultural contexts.

Is it because these texts are purportedly rooted in a solid base of values common to humankind but do not (wish to?) take into account the widely differing cultural interpretations of these values as they apply in the real-life practice of inter-personal relations? Or is it rather that the individuals who represent their people at the highest international levels, and are tasked with finding common ground in framing such texts, are unaware that by working in a given language (usually English or French), they are unwittingly permeated by the culture from which it stems? By immersing themselves - through the intermediary of language - in a complex set of interacting values and practices, do they overlook the fact (in negotiations) that notions, concepts and principles which are "clear" in the working language, have different or sometimes no overtones at all in the language of the cultures of their homelands? Whence the problem of implementing values agreed upon as "universal"; whence cross-cultural misunderstandings; and whence opportunities for political manipulation "in the name of" culture and religion.

Mindful that this is a challenge fraught with difficulties, the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind (hereafter FPH), under its programme " Living in peace in a diverse world", backed a tentative attempt to shed light on these veiled problems. The FPH initiated and supports a worldwide movement called the " Alliance for a Responsible and United World ". Its courageous laying open of the Alliance's Platform (founding text) to a kaleidoscope of cultural analysis proved its sincerity.

The book entitled "WHAT WORDS DO NOT SAY: the art of intercultural listening" (to be published in French and English by Editions Charles Léopold Mayer in its "Dossier pour un Débat" series, spring 2000-) gives an account of an exercise in intercultural cross-fertilization based on the difficulties encountered when translating the Alliance's Platform into a score of mainly non-Western languages. The exercise brought to light underlying, and often fundamental, differences in the way people perceive "the world", "us" and "the future", as well as a host of concepts and values like "responsibility", "solidarity", "citizenship", "planning", "countervailing power", "destiny", "balance", not to mention "democracy" and "justice".

The main recommendation to emerge from this approach is that the procedure has to be turned on its head. Instead of translating a "ready-made" text framed in one of the dominant international languages, the more realistic option would be to start by writing a series of context-sensitive texts in local languages. These texts could then be translated into French and English with a view to discussing their contents and working out a collective document. The underlying idea of this recommendation is that we first have to get the specifics clear to find out where the common ground lies.

A new challenge: framing an Intercultural Earth Charter which embraces the individual and the shared

It is a message which the FPH and the Alliance have taken on board. Which is why a new project was started on the basis of the above mentioned recommendations. This time the objective is to contribute to the framing of an Earth Charter which truely reflects the diversity of cultural visions as expressed by a variety of languages.

The idea for an Earth Charter along the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of the United Nations, first surfaced at the United Nations Stockholm Conference (1972) and was pressed at the United Nations Environment Conference in Rio de Janeiro (1992). The initial thinking was that it would be a Charter focussed on the environment, protecting the Earth and interactions between humankind and nature, and that its scope would clarify the meaning of "sustainable development". It would be submitted to the Assembly of the United Nations in 2000 or 2001.

A Commission set up by the Earth Charter Council drafted a Charter which is discussed in national committees.

The Alliance proposes taking a parallel tack, but from an intercultural approach where "context-sensitive" texts would be produced, without working from a pre-set text. The reason is, that if it is trying to stir people and organizations all over the world to action to create "a responsible and united world", it is duty-bound to take part in this world-wide process of giving thought to and making proposals for the Earth Charter. So, grassroots community groups have been set up in Asia, Latin America and Africa to give expression to their ideas, and make the process of framing such a key Charter a truly democratic one.

Also see under the same rubric in French on this site.

12) Identity, democracy and local development

Here follows the text sent out around the world to call upon interested people to participate in this project called: international research and sharing project on "The impact of identity on local development and democracy"

We are looking for people from the South ("third world") and from Europe who have personal experience of (or expertise on) minority groups (e.g. tribal or "aboriginal" people from Asian countries such as India or the Philippines, Pygmies and other African minorities), "Indigenas" from Central or South America, Catalonians or Basks from Spain and France, Gypsies, Jews, "Lap" Sami people, Welsh, etc…). We do not exclude people from majority groups with an interesting sense of identity (e.g. Singaporeans, South Africans, Haitians, any E.U. or East European national …).

By identity is meant here the way a given community looks at itself and presents itself to outsiders. We look at identity in a non-deterministic way, that is as a "social construction" related to things people have in common (like nation, ethnicity, religion, language, territory, historical heritage, common skills, etc.). Recent events in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda show dramatically that identity may have very negative and violent consequences. Conversely, identity and cultures (e.g. Scottish or Indian American identity) enable people to resist positively to what they see as alienating and imperialistic structures.

By local development is meant here any process which draws on local resources and know-how so as to enhance people-based quality of life, social justice and environmental care and, as opposed to a merely quantifiable and profit-oriented economic growth process, subservient to the dominant paradigm of neoliberal globalization.

By democracy is meant here a process towards achieving on-going peoples' participation and a strong sense of collective responsibility, i.o.w. "deep" democracy which goes beyond an occasional electoral consultation whereby people delegate to politicians, and to established powers that be, the definition and care of the common good.

Also see under the same rubric in French on this site.

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