Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Javier Perez De Cuellar

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Javier Perez De Cuellar

Article excerpt

Our Creative diversity

Mr. Javier Perez de Cuellar, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, headed the independent World Commission on Culture and Development which spent three years (1993-1995) rethinking the notions of development and culture and the relationship between them. Here he outlines the Commission's approach to its task and sums up some of the conclusions it reached. Interview by Raj Isar.

* The World Commission on Culture and Development was the first group of distinguished development economists, social scientists, artists and policy-makers to reflect together so intensively on the relationships between culture and development. How does its work take us forward?

Javier Perez de Cuellar: First, it shows how we can and must broaden the notion of development itself. Development divorced from its human or cultural context is growth without a soul. And economic development in its full flowering is part of a people's culture. In these years of momentous change, which offer people such unprecedented opportunities yet such unequal access to these opportunities, it is particularly timely, it seems to me, that this idea be asserted and promoted internationally.

Because material measurements of "progress" are no satisfactory index of human welfare, the search for other criteria has led, for example, to the notion of human development, that measures improvements in a broad array of capabilities, ranging from political, economic and social freedom to individual opportunities for being healthy, educated, and creative and for enjoying self-respect and human rights. Culture was implied in this notion but it was not explicitly introduced. We have shown why it must be introduced and how it can be. This is an important step forward in rethinking development.

The second advance, it seems to me, is to have transformed the way we look at the pairing of the terms "culture" and "development". Is it simply culture and development? Or is it culture in development? Culture for development? Or development for culture? Once you define culture as we have - as "ways of living together" - and once development is seen as a process that enhances the freedom of people everywhere to pursue whatever goals they have reason to value, then culture must be far more than just an aspect or a means of development.

However important it may be as an instrument of development (or an obstacle to it), culture should not be reduced to being a mere promoter of (or impediment to) economic growth. Rather, it is the end and aim of development when the latter is seen as the flourishing of human existence as a whole. The converse, which is the purely instrumental view, was nicely characterized by one scholar as the "add culture and stir" school. I think many people expected the Commission to at least inventory all the ingredients that one might "add and stir" so as to improve development programmes as currently conceived, if not produce entirely new recipes of its own!

* Did you adopt that approach?

J. P. de C.: We took a different tack. Human beings value goods and services because of what they contribute to our freedom to live the way we value. And what we have reason to value must itself be a matter of culture. So while it has. far-reaching instrumental functions in development, this cannot be all there is to it. There is also the role of culture as a desirable end in itself, as giving meaning to our existence. This dual role applies not only to the promotion of economic growth but to other objectives, such as sustaining the environment, enhancing social cohesion or fostering civil institutions in a society. Insofar as we have reason to value these objectives, naturally we would value the attitudes and behaviours that help us attain them. But when we turn to the more basic question - why concentrate on these objectives in the first place? - culture has to enter in a more fundamental way. …

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