Cultural Diversity

Cultural diversity is the term given to a range of societies or peoples, with different origins, religions and traditions, all living in a specific region. Cultural differences between people may include their language, beliefs, traditions and arts. Each culture has basic standards for social interaction such as personal space distance, eye contact, or the amount of body language displayed in public. Each culture can also be differentiated by the way the societies organize themselves, in their shared conception of morality, and in the ways they interact with environment.

In 2001 The General Conference of UNESCO adopted Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, which is considered to be a legal instrument recognizing for the first time cultural diversity as common heritage of humanity and considering its preservation to be a concrete and ethical imperative inseparable from respect for human dignity. The declaration proclaims the cultural variety as a living and renewable treasure that guarantees the survival of humankind. It also aims to prevent segregation and fundamentalism.

Under the Universal Declaration, each person must acknowledge otherness in all its aspects: "In our increasingly diverse societies, it is essential to ensure harmonious interaction among people and groups with plural, varied and dynamic cultural identities as well as their willingness to live together. Policies for the inclusion and participation of all citizens are guarantees of social cohesion, the vitality of civil society and peace."

UNESCO proclaimed that human rights include the right of different culture. In an article on the human rights and cultural diversity the United Nations says that these rights are challenged by the "increasingly global, multicultural world brimming with tension, confusion and conflict in the process of its adjustment to pluralism."

This globalization raises the question whether universal human rights can exist in a culturally diverse world and how cultural diversity and integrity can be respected. In 1993 the World Conference on Human Rights, organized by the UN, adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, also known as VDPA. The declaration concerns the human rights and confirms the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

According to Universal Declaration, all persons have the right to express themselves and to create and disseminate their work in the language of their choice. Everyone has the right to get education that is in accordance with the cultural identity. Also, each person can participate in the cultural life of their choice and conduct their own cultural practices.

"While ensuring the free flow of ideas by word and image, care should be exercised that all cultures can express themselves and make themselves known. Freedom of expression, media pluralism, multilingualism, equal access to art and to scientific and technological knowledge, including in digital form, and the possibility for all cultures to have access to the means of expression and dissemination are the guarantees of cultural diversity," the declaration says.

In 2005, UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression. This convention is also regarded as a legally binding instrument that recognizes the distinctive nature of cultural goods, services and activities as vehicles of identity, values and meaning. It also states that while cultural goods, services and activities have important economic value, they are not mere commodities or consumer goods that can only be regarded as objects of trade.

This convention has the objective to protect cultural differences and create conditions for cultures to flourish and freely interact with each other. It was adopted in response to growing pressure on countries to waive their right to enforce cultural policies and to put all aspects of the cultural sector on the table when negotiating international trade agreements.

UNESCO has set as its goal to stimulate people with different cultures to have a dialog and interact peacefully.

UNESCO's position is not accepted by all. Some claim that it is unethical to promote poverty in underdeveloped nations as cultural and to promote all religious practices simply because they contribute to cultural diversity. Particularly, there are some practices that are recognized by the World Health Organization and UN as unethical, including female genital mutilation, Sati (burning the widow on the husband's burial pyre), polygamy, child brides and human sacrifice.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Many Globalizations: Cultural Diversity in the Contemporary World
Peter L. Berger; Samuel P. Huntington.
Oxford University Press, 2002
Language and Cultural Diversity in U.S. Schools: Democratic Principles in Action
Terry A. Osborn.
Praeger, 2005
America's Banquet of Cultures: Harnessing Ethnicity, Race, and Immigration in the Twenty-First Century
Ronald Fernandez.
Praeger Publishers, 2000
Comparative Analysis of Cultural Diversity and Multiculturalism in Colleges and Universities
Parhizgar, Kamal Dean.
Competition Forum, Vol. 5, No. 1, January 1, 2007
The Impact of Cultural Diversity on Minority Student Achievement
Tucker-Allen, Sallie.
Journal of Cultural Diversity, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring 2005
Cultural Diversity, Discrimination, and Economic Outcomes: An Experimental Analysis
Ferraro, Paul J.; Cummings, Ronald G.
Economic Inquiry, Vol. 45, No. 2, April 2007
Relative Justice: Cultural Diversity, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility
Tamler Sommers.
Princeton University Press, 2012
Understanding Institutional Diversity
Elinor Ostrom.
Princeton University Press, 2005
Managing Diverse Classrooms: How to Build on Students' Cultural Strengths
Carrie Rothstein-Fisch; Elise Trumbull.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2008
Media, Cultural Diversity and Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities
Zayani, Mohamed.
Journal of Cultural Diversity, Vol. 18, No. 2, Summer 2011
The Challenge of Cultural Diversity in Europe: (Re)designing Cultural Heritages through Intercultural Dialogue
García, Estela Rodríguez.
Human Architecture, Vol. 9, No. 4, Fall 2011
African American Family Life: Ecological and Cultural Diversity
Vonnie C. McLoyd; Nancy E. Hill; Kenneth A. Dodge.
Guilford Press, 2005
Managing Diversity--The Courage to Lead
Elsie Y. Cross.
Quorum Books, 2000
Religious Identity and Cultural Diversity: Exploring the Relationships between Religious Identity, Sexism, Homophobia, and Multicultural Competence
Balkin, Richard S.; Schlosser, Lewis Z.; Levitt, Dana Heller.
Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Vol. 87, No. 4, Fall 2009
Cultural Diversity, Mental Health and Psychiatry: The Struggle against Racism
Suman Fernando.
Brunner-Routledge, 2003
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