Reviewed by Ogova Ondego
Published October 13, 2008
A book for equipping national policy-makers with new skills with which to tackle the challenges of culture and globalisation in broader trans-national terms has been published.
The book, Conflicts and Tensions, is for any one serving in areas such as conflict resolution, peace-keeping, diplomacy, international aid, direct foreign investment, trade, economics, law enforcement, gender mainstreaming, human rights, sociology, technology, communications, legal service, civil society, tourism and travel, and academics.
Launched at the University of Utrecht in Holland on December 10, 2007, this 664-page tome analyses ‘the cultural dimensions of conflict and conflictual dimensions of culture’ domains in which the knowledge gap is both politically dangerous and economically damaging. It is presented in 27 chapters, organised in four sections, each with a separate introduction to help orient the reader. The book acknowledges that globalisation is challenging the nexus between culture, polity and society virtually everywhere.
One may simply turn to the section of interest in this first of a group of books by Sage Publications called The Cultures and Globalisation series once one has grasped the message presented in the introductory pages that include the Foreword, Introduction to the Cultures and Globalisation series, and Approaches and Developments.
Globalisation may have begun as a cultural phenomenon, writes Ralf Dahrendorf in the Foreword, but its cultural consequences are more complex and less visible.
In their introduction, series editors Helmut Anheir and Yudhishthir Raj Isaj say, “We seek to draw attention to changes in the worlds and the policy implications they have, by providing an outlet for cutting edge research, thinking and debate. Our hope is that this book will become a valued reference for the exploration of contemporary cultural issues from different perspectives in the social sciences, in the arts and the humanities, as well as in policy making circles and that it will contribute to building bridges among them.”
Globalisation affects people, organisations and communities, changing their values, expectations, identities and orientations. Despite this, cultural patterns and changes remain largely unmeasured and unanalysed.
One reason for the above mentioned neglect at the global level is the linking of culture to the sovereign nation-state though culturalised processes now take place in increasingly ‘de-territorialised’ trans-national, global contexts, many of which are beyond the reach of national policies of any individual national state.
Cultural questions escape the direct reach of purely national policy-making because the economic and political dimensions with which they are intertwined, are increasingly organised and played out at the trans-national level.
Culture, as a phenomenon, is related to virtually every aspect of the human condition; as a concept, it is even broader and more capacious than ‘economy’ or ‘society’.
The world’s cultures are being shaped by economic, social, political and legal globalisation. There is an increasingly troubled relationship between identities and globalisation.
“Behind the concern for ‘culture’ that is increasingly evoked in contemporary public debate”, the book says, “lurks the specter of conflict. Yet conflict-culture relationships are inadequately analyzed and little understood. Hence they are easily politicized by ideologues.”
Defining conflict as “the tensions between individual and collective values on the one hand and economic and political interests on the other”, Conflicts and Tensions says “Harnessing conflict/tension through adequate institutions and ways of conflict regulation is now the challenge.”
As populations shift and societies change, people turn to cultural distinctions embodied in their traditions to resist what is perceived as a threat to their integrity and prosperity, even their very survival identities and values. This recurrent mobilization around group identity has led to a cultural politics whose stakes include gaining control of political and economic power.
Despite this reality, the standard ‘development’ models have paid little attention to cultural values and differences, assuming that functional categories such as class and occupation are more important.
While the formation of the modern nation-state is an often-disregarded cause of conflict and has influenced both forms of violent conflict, globalisation fuels the processes of ‘culturisation’ or ‘ethnicisation’. Indeed, globalisation allows worldwide involvement in the memory wars of different locales because of worldwide media streams and global associations. Memory wars evoke values, authorities and beliefs and in countries without viable, functioning institutions, these can explode into violence. Intensity of these protests relies more on politics, on deeply ingrained anger and feelings of repression.
Cultural heritage, defined as ‘collectively memory made tangible’ is often attacked in present-day armed conflict. This involves the deliberate destruction of monuments, the theft of artifacts, the replacement of important imagery and symbols and the imposition of politically charged propaganda.
The destruction of buildings and the theft of artifacts appear to be inseparable from violent conflict throughout recorded history. All the colonial powers assaulted the material culture of colonized societies, pillaging, destroying and supplanting these with their own symbols.
Plunder and looting have always been a part of belligerent action; they can be motivated by a desire to collect trophies of war, to gain economic benefit, or as a symbolic gesture of taking from others what is dear to them.
With the growth of tourism as a key economic sector, targeting cultural heritage can also be at par with targeting natural resources or infrastructure.
The first attempts to create an international body or agreement dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage against wartime destruction, date back to the aftermath of world war 1 and evolved rapidly after world war II, culminating in The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of Armed Conflict (The Hague Convention) in 1954. A second protocol to the convention was adopted in March 1999.
UNESCO adopted a ‘Declaration Concerning the International Destruction of Cultural Heritage’ in 2003.
The International Council on Archives (ICA), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) are charged with collecting and disseminating information, and coordinating action to protect cultural heritage in crisis situations spurred by natural and complex emergencies.
The idea that it is morally wrong to destroy the cultural heritage, even of an enemy, can be traced through the legal instruments developed to protect heritage and by examining the attitudes of the perpetrators.
“Trafficking in material culture is a multimillion industry, second only to trade in narcotics”, says George Abungu, former Director-General of the National Museums of Kenya and President of the International Standing Committee on Illegal Trafficking in Material Culture.
Abungu acknowledges that Kenya was a transit country for antiquities from countries in the great lakes region and the horn of Africa that have been through conflicts in the past 15 years. While Ethiopia and Eritrea were at war for example, insiders at the National Museums of Kenya observed how pieces that were highly valued on the international market made their way from Ethiopia to Nairobi through refugees from both warring parties.
Prepared by independent researchers and cultural experts hailing mainly but not exclusively from academia, the main focus of this series is the relationships between cultures and globalisation that came strongly to the fore in the closing years of the 20th century. Each edition will focus on a specific set of ‘culture and globalization’ issues.
This inaugural volume is devoted to ‘conflict’ that is related to or driven by the changing dynamic of cultural sameness and indifference vis-a-vis globalisation. The next issue will tackle the latest issues and developments as regards the cultural economy across the world. The third is likely to explore issues of arts practice and creativity in the arts.
The thematic focus for the first five series include: conflicts and tensions, the cultural economy, creativity and arts practice, identities and values, and innovation and regression.
This book says the world is ‘in a time of intense culturalism’, as cultural difference is consciously mobilized in a politics of recognition and representation, as a political arm, a bulwark or a refuge for both individuals and groups.”
“The key challenge of negotiating difference today”, it goes on, “is to give up notions of cultural purity, and search to uncover the ways in which the meanings and symbols of culture are produced through complex processes of translation, negotiation and enunciation.”
Saying any literature on globalisation focuses on economics and the spread of the international rule of law and gives scanty treatment to cultural trade issues, Conflicts and Tensions further says “Trans-border flows of people and artifacts which are profoundly cultural are inadequately addressed.”
Also receiving scant attention is the role of trans-national businesses and civil society organisations that span many national and regional boundaries.
As globalisation involves the movement of objects, meanings and people across regions and intercontinental space, national policy-makers need new tools with which to think the challenges of culture in broader transnational terms.