Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The Challenge of Cultural Diversity in Europe (Re)designing Cultural Heritages through Intercultural Dialogue

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The Challenge of Cultural Diversity in Europe (Re)designing Cultural Heritages through Intercultural Dialogue

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION: MULTICULTURAL SOCIETIES AND COLLECTIVE IMAGINARIES

"Ponte en su piel" ("Put Yourself in Her Skin") was part of a sensitivity campaign promoted by the city of Tarragona in 2006 that puts into context many elements of the debate we aim to expose in this article. At first glance, it speaks to us of the so-called "new immigration" of people from countries outside the European Union who have arrived in Catalonia in the past few decades and who now live in our cities, creating new realities and bringing to the fore new challenges and defining society's new needs in the early years of the 21st century (Pajares 2005; Garcia y Baranano 2003). But it also speaks to us of our anxieties and obsessions, our fears and our way of perceiving "others." Western societies have constructed their collective imaginaries through the recuperation of objects and traditions that define them best (Anderson 1993) . At the time of the birth of nation-states, in the colonial and post-colonial eras, and in the current period of globalization, the icons and symbols that are a part of this community have been abstracted from their original locations and brought into those great storage areas we call museums. As a product of the era of the birth of nationalisms, museums clearly define, through the selection of cultural artifacts, who has belonged to a community and who has not, who "we" are and who are the "others."

Europe mythically shaped its self-definition by "whitening" it, denying any recognition whatsoever of the cultural diversity of the people who inhabited the region for centuries (Shohat and Stam 1994) . Since the 15th and 16th centuries, with the Renaissance, the invention of a common past involved emphasizing the Greek and Latin past, disconnected from any type of relationship with other cultures, religions or skin colors (Mignolo 2003). The white marble of Roman sculptures, which many farmers found while tilling their land, became the desired color, the symbol of a Europe that nullified any presence of cultural and religious difference. Within this chosen definition, the chromatic spectrum of the others and their everyday objects were first defined as the war booty of dominant aristocracies, and later, as objects fit for ethnological museums (Chakrabarty 2000).

Today we have diversity in our streets and not just in our museums. When we walk through our cities, new strokes, colors and styles of clothing take us by surprise (Barkan and Denise 1998)--those of foreigners from outside the European community, those who remain outside the Europe of their dreams and do not enjoy the citizenship rights of inhabitants of the European Union's member states. As we have stressed in other studies, the definition of European identity has been linked with the idea of a cultural homogenization, but above all, as the philosopher Rosi Braidotti has written, (1) "this myth continues to be crucial for the legend of European nationalism." For this author, the reason European unification has taken 50 years to bring questions of culture and education to the agenda, above and beyond economic and military questions, has to do with the complexity of the definition of these concepts for each and every member country. Various identities--or figurations as Braidotti calls them--"remain outside this Europe: the migrant, the exile, the refugee or asylum-seeker, the undocumented foreigner, the homeless and the uprooted, the Filipina nanny who has replaced the more familiar figure of the "chica canguro" [babysitter] or au pair girl...." These immigrants, who have lived among us for decades, receive scant attention from the media, which often associate them with situations of criminality, underdevelopment or subalternity, reinforcing the cultural imaginaries that negatively affect our perception of other cultures (Rodriguez 2005). The same does not go for Euro-American globalized cultures, such as the Hollywood culture industry, consumer modes and products, music or fast food. …

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