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Our Creative Diversity 

Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development 

The World Commission on Culture and Development hoped that Our Creative Diversity would stimulate debate and spark off new initiatives. That hope has been amply realized. The issues raised by the Commission come squarely to the forefront internationally.

The purpose of this thematic summary is to link the different themes to the myriad of UNESCO-based and UNESCO-related activities…

The central argument advanced in the Introduction to Our Creative Diversity is that development embraces not only access to goods and services, but also the opportunity to choose a full, satisfying, valuable and valued way of living together, thus encouraging the flourishing of human existence in all its forms and as a whole.

Even the goods and services stressed by the narrower, conventional view are valued because of what they contribute to our freedom to live the manner to which we aspire. Culture, therefore, however important it may be as an instrument of development (or an obstacle to development), cannot ultimately be reduced to a subsidiary position as a mere promoter of (or an impediment to) economic growth. Culture's role is not exhausted as a servant of ends -- though in a narrower sense of the concept this is one of its roles -- but it is the social basis of the ends themselves. Development and the economy are part of a people's culture.

There is an underlying unity in the diversity of cultures. Can this unity be articulated in a global ethics? (chapter 1). The ethical impulse to alleviate and eradicate suffering whenever this is possible is an example of such a universal imperative. One of the most encouraging recent trends has been the development of international standards of human rights. Democracy and the protection of minorities are important principles of global ethics, as well as a condition for institutional efficiency, social stability, and peace. In a world in which 10,000 distinct societies live in roughly 200 states, the protection and accommodation of minority rights is a principal concern. However, minority rights should not be at the expense of the rights of majorities. Nor should vocal bullies, pretending to speak for minorities, be accepted as the voice of their people. The voice of Democracy should also be heard at the international level, where it has so far been silent. The commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts and to fair negotiation and equity, both within and between generations, are other important principles of this global ethic.

The Report considered a commitment to pluralism (chapter 2) to be of fundamental importance. Its message was that cultural pluralism is an all-pervasive, enduring characteristic of societies, and that ethnic identification is a normal and healthy response to the pressures of globalization. Ethnicity acts as a trigger for violent conflict only when it is mobilized and manipulated to do so. Attempts at "nation building" through making all groups homogeneous are neither desirable nor feasible. The best way of accommodating ethnic diversity is to create a sense of the nation as a civic community, rooted in values that can be shared by all ethnic components of the national society. How though can a sense of community freed from any connotations of ethnic exclusivity be achieved?

Pluralism will only be an empty word, however, if those concerned cannot take democratic initiatives in a climate conducive to creativity and empowerment (chapter 3). In our "infinite world of questioning and doubt", creative imagination and initiative on the part of individuals, communities and societies is ever more required. What are some of the ways in which creativity should be promoted today, not just in the arts, but also in the domains of science and technology and in the theory and practice of governance?

People in one society must also be in a position to communicate with those in other societies. This is one of the major challenges of a media-rich world (chapter 4). Can we make the new media technologies become a means of democratic interaction and poverty reduction? This requires a competitive market and a balance between efficiency and equity and between global and local concerns. The Commission asked that the possibility of establishing new international public media services be studied and that a search for common standards of decency be pursued with regard to media violence and pornography.

The debate on gender and culture (chapter 5) is a complex one. The rights and needs of women and the interdependence of men and women are important in redesigning their identities and roles in society. What principles need to be put in place to avoid the dual pitfalls of ethnocentrism and Western bias on the one hand, and ethical relativism that denies women their human rights in the name of local "culture" on the other.

The discussion of gender leads on to the need to pay attention to the rights and duties of children and young people (chapter 6). No generation has ever been so large or so young. The vast and rapidly growing number of children and young people, combined with their lack of power, highlights the necessity to protect them against exploitation and neglect and to advance their education and health. Meeting this necessity is the most important investment we can make in our future. How can we rise to this challenge?

Rapid change presents new challenges as societies seek to make the best possible use of cultural heritage for development (chapter 7). Historic buildings and sites, museum objects, as well as intangible manifestations such as oral traditions and language, are being destroyed or allowed to decay. Furthermore definitions of cultural heritage are still too narrow. The Commission observed that all people in every society need to be able to identify and evaluate their heritage in their own terms as well as the uses they want to make of that heritage. Hence it explored some of the ways in which that usage might be broadened and more effectively managed.

Humanity's relation to the natural environment has so far been seen predominantly in biophysical terms; but there is now a growing recognition that societies themselves have created elaborate procedures to protect and manage their resources. How can one take these procedures which are rooted in cultural values into account so that sustainable development becomes a reality? To answer that question we need to devote more attention to the interactions between culture and the environment (chapter 8).

Taken together, these considerations led the Commission to recommend rethinking cultural policies (chapter 9). It argued strongly for the need to expand the concept of cultural policy from a narrow focus on the arts, and suggested a different way of thinking about it. How can countries define cultural policies directed at encouraging a truly constructive pluralism in which diversity is made a source of creativity? How can we convince decision-makers that supporting new, emerging, experimental art forms and expressions is not a subsidy to consumption but an investment in human development?

Finally, on research needs (chapter 10), the Commission proposed an agenda focusing on the hitherto largely neglected integration of culture, development, and forms of political organization. The question at the heart of the development process is this: what policies promote a sustainable human development that encourages the flowering of different cultures?

If one key idea had to be selected from the above ten chapters then it would be the idea contained in the two opening sentences of the Executive Summary of the Report: "Development divorced from its human or cultural context is growth without a soul. Economic development in its full flowering is part of a people's culture."

This is different from seeing culture as either a help or a hindrance to economic development, leading to the call to take cultural factors into account. Unlike the physical environment, however, where we dare not improve on the best that nature provides, culture is the fountain of our progress and creativity. Once we shift our view from the purely instrumental role of culture to awarding it a constructive, constitutive and creative role, we have to see development in terms that encompass cultural growth.

As the Commission affirmed, the Report "is about providing present and future generations of humanity with the tools to meet this challenge, to broaden their knowledge, to discover the world in its imposing diversity, and to allow all individuals to lead a life that is decent, dignified and wise, without losing their identity and sense of community, and without betraying their heritage."

Our Creative Diversity was also conceived in the questing spirit of our age: it sought to table questions rather than deal out answers; to enrich a debate rather than seek acceptance of new truths. It is a report that recognizes uncertainty, quoting Ilya Prigogine’s observation that "the 20th century has transformed the entire planet from a finite world of certainties to an infinite world of questioning and doubt." For the notion of culture itself has to be subject to multiple readings and possibilities.

In this spirit the Commission formulated an International Agenda. This included ten initiatives to mobilize energies and commitment. The idea was that these actions could enhance and deepen the discussion and analysis of culture and development and foster the emergence of an international consensus on as many of the key issues as possible. The Commission also wanted these actions to lead eventually to a Global Summit on Culture and Development, promoting the widest democratic participation by all - especially women and young people - at all levels, from the local, the provincial, and the central government levels, to the international and global level, where it has so far been neglected.

Content Language English
Document Type Report
Website (URL) http://upo.unesco.org/details.aspx?&Code_Livre=1321&change=E
Author(s) UNESCO
Publication Date 27 Jan 1995

Culture Sector
Division of Cultural Policies and Intercultural Dialogue

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