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Development is Cultural

Culture is not a “soft” issue, the icing on the economic and technological cake.
Culture permeates all aspects of life. It contains the local perception of the meaning of life and of what simply constitutes a “good life” to a local population. It is a matrix, the soft-ware of social life, its "symbolic engine" It can be a source of positive dynamism. Conversely, it can lead to inertia if it becomes what Paulo Freire called “a culture of silence”, with an internalised complex of inferiority and dependence. Cultural revitalisation is then in order, to instil a sense of self-confidence and mutual trust. It can lead to more participative democracy, to more responsible citizenship, to enhanced economic effectiveness, to creative technological change, to more sustainable poverty reduction. That is so because a lively culture is both an heritage and a project. It gives meaning and direction.
“Culture is like a seashell wherein we can hear whom we have been and listen to what we can become”. (Mexican poet Carlos Fuentes).

From the above follows the conclusion that culture is to inhabit the project process and any “development” strategy. Development will be cultural or it will not be.

The creative power of culture

Local cultures resist modernity and development when these are found hostile to their basic values. The failures of many development projects are evidence of the ability of people to slow down, deviate, pervert, squander, misuse, distort and block what they see as a threat (J. Scott). True, some communities seem to fall into fatalism leading to submission or apathy. Others blindly reject new inputs with fear, lack of discernment and fanaticism. But other cultures innovate and are setting up alternatives, through trial and error. No unique model is coming to the fore but a large variety of cultural mixes where local tradition mingles with imported modernity, capitalism with gift and counter-gift, streamlined business management with village spirit and family-like bonds within the enterprise, western development with endogenous rationality. Something else may be emerging, beyond the old opposition between tradition and modernity. Perhaps various kinds of local modernities (or trans-modernities) will ensue, embedded in the creativity of each culture.

As a conclusion, culture matters because it can be a source of dynamism and creativity. Not purity matters most in culture, nor necessarily its ancientry but its ability to adapt and be creative, and to screen and chose from the many outside influences with which it is confronted. What matters in a culture is its capacity to instil self-respect, the ability to resist to exploitation and domination, a capacity to select outside influences, and the ability to offer meaning to what one produces, consumes, to land, liberty, life and death, pain and joy. Culture is, in the final analysis, about meaning. That is why it is related closely to spirituality.

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