Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Back to the Drawing Board

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Back to the Drawing Board

Article excerpt

The shifting of cultural boundaries is an inevitable consequence of the globalization of communications

For the first time in history, the global market and telecommunications have brought people of all the cultures of the world into permanent contact. While this is an astonishing historical achievement, it is bringing both benefits and liabilities. Better communications between cultures may bring greater understanding, or greater friction. Increased trade, conducted in a just and equitable manner, may provide more people with access to necessary products and services; yet it may also wipe out livelihoods and leave people destitute as information on the new markets eludes them. More technology increases our understanding and capacity for managing the environment and our own genetic processes: yet it may lead to the de-skilling of the cultures in a "brave new world". The manner in which these processes evolve will depend on how people react to such new possibilities.

This is the reason why culture needs to be made visible as the context in which societies evolve. Development thinking and policies must, as a matter of urgency, take up the issues of co-operation, community, trust, ethnicity and identity since these make up the social fabric on which the polity and the economy are based. In many parts of the world, exclusive emphasis on competition and the market are altering these sensitive equilibrium factors and exacerbating cultural tensions and feelings of uncertainty.

The way to situate oneself in the world most readily is by enumerating the traits of one's culture, which are best defined by being set in contrast with those of other cultures. Human beings enjoy a feeling of political and psychological certainty by being enclosed within symbolically visible cultural boundaries, although these are contextualized in historically continuous cultural flows.

Shifting boundaries

Now that these boundaries are shifting, people are having to rethink their place in a microglobal world. In the past, national borders circumscribed laws, state policies, economies, politics, education and, as a rule, demography, as well as culturally expressive collective rituals and ceremonies. This highly centralized, mechanical scheme must now open up to more flexible participative arrangements in which the realities of economic interdependence and cultural identities may be incorporated. …

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