Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization

1

What is the Future for Smaller Societies
at a Time of Globalization?

Fernand Harvey*

Every society on the planet is facing a tremendous challenge in dealing with the future of culture. Pessimistic and optimistic views conflict with one another as researchers try to see what type of culture will emerge in the twenty-first century. Are we living in a new technological and economic context which will favour more than ever the expression of cultural diversity and difference? Or are we caught in a process of cultural homogenization generated by transnational cultural industries, which marginalize the diverse local or national cultures born out of a different tradition, history and geography? This question is not new; one can trace its beginnings to the philosophical debates of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, where the opposing forces were those preaching on the one hand for a universalist conception of culture derived from the Enlightment and embraced by the French Revolution, and on the other for a territorialized conception of culture, promoted by German philosophers such as Herder, and taken over by the romantic movement, as a reaction against the disembodied universalism of the Enlightment.

This opposition between universalist and particularist culture had essentially been a debate of ideas, even if it did have an impact on the asserting of nationalities in the nineteenth century. The Second Industrial Revolution, which was born at the end of the nineteenth century and which opened the door to mass production, using electricity as a new source of energy in place of steam, has had a major impact on the production and distribution of culture, making possible the cultural industries of the twentieth century, including mass culture. Cinema, recorded sound and radio were part of the avant-garde of a new culture with the ability to cross national borders and become internationalized. Fears of the Americanization of culture began to appear in various countries, from the 1930s on; they indicate the emergence of a new reality.

If the relationship between universality and the specificities of culture is not a new discourse, how does one explain the fact that this debate has become so widespread since the 1990s? What does the notion of cultural diversity, which is being widely debated here and elsewhere on the planet, mean? These questions raise others; it is important to begin a process of surveying a complex field that is full of contradictions. One has to be accurate if one intends to clarify things when talking about culture and its handing down in the context of the globalization of culture.

1. about the concept of culture: some clarifications

Everyone knows that the term culture can be used to designate different aspects of reality, even if those aspects are intermingled. Since the end of the nineteenth century, anthropologists, following Tylor (1871), have led us to see culture as a set of ways of thinking, feeling and behaving, which make it possible for individuals and collectivities to define their relationship to the world. This perspective, which implies that there are a multitude of cultures, is marked with continuity and is closely linked to tradition or history. These traditional cultures can be described by the way people live. Modern societies have marginalized the place of tradition in favour of multiple interpretations of events, whose meaning is no longer derived from religious or cosmologic visions. According to Fernand Dumont (1994), our societies will henceforth interpret the world, its history and its future in the light of actual uncertainties. It is easy to understand, then, that culture, seen through an ambiguous relationship to the world, sets the problem of the identity of individuals, of communities and of societies, as being about one’s relationship to others. In a world of deep changes, culture deals more than ever with the question of the meaning of existence. This inclusive definition of culture, which integrates the notion of identity, goes further than the notion of ways of living adopted by some sociologists and anthropologists in their study of contemporary material culture. That inclusive definition was used to define culture in The White Paper on Cultural Development, released by the Québec government in 1978.

Chapter 1, continued >

  


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