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


Locality and Culture: Creating Public Spaces
for Culture in the Mind and in the Civitas1

Donna Cardinal*

The invitation given us was to reflect on our research as it relates to the themes of the colloquium: the handing down of culture in smaller societies in a context of globalization. I join Michel de la Durantaye in considering this theme in relation to local and regional cultural policy making and cultural development.

The aspect of the topic that tickled my curiosity was the question posed by Jean-Paul Baillargeon about the role of memory and of future possibility in the generating/handing down of culture in small societies in a context of globalization. He put the question this way: “In the face of an a la carte culture consumed only in the present, should we be concerned about the handing down of culture from one generation to the next and, ... what role should we attribute to memory, to future possibilities?” He posed the question in reference to creators, their works and their public. I am going to respond with reference to citizens who are engaged in the creative process of generating alternatives to those aspects of their collective lives that are unacceptable to them. That is, I will describe a research process in which the creators are citizens, their works are the imagined futures they seek to create together, and their public is their fellow citizens in the public sphere.

Does that sound like I am stretching the invitation? Perhaps some will conclude that I am, however, for me, there is a fit with the themes of this colloquium, and the fit is in two dimensions. One dimension is that my research and work are most often in the domain of culture and the arts. The second dimension is that the process by which we conduct the research is, in my mind, an application of the artistic process or creative process to the production of, not art, but new states of affairs in our public worlds.

In research terms, I understand what I do as a form of participatory action research undertaken collaboratively with peers who, in these cases, are citizens. Our collaborative work is to two ends: addressing some problematique in the shared life of the community; and, along the way, intentionally developing and refining skills and competences needed in that community to address this and other problems they are encountering.

My research has been exclusively in Canada outside of Québec, mostly with local communities, that is, communities defined first geographically and then by interest or shared concern. Some of those communities have been small and remote, as were Dawson City and Terrace; others like Edmonton and Winnipeg could be described as large and remote! In between I might categorize Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and St. John’s NF. I am using remote in the sense that one travels a long time to get there and the travel is challenging.

None of the communities have been remote in the sense of being beyond the reach of external influences including global cultural influences. Whether remote or not (for I have also worked with citizen groups in Toronto, Kitchener, Vancouver, Victoria), when a local community makes public policy in support of its own cultural development, global cultural forces form an inevitable part of the context in which citizens do their work. Cultural globalization and homogenization are embraced by some as the high point of our cultural evolution; accepted by others as the inevitable price of doing business with the wider world; and resisted by others as colonizing the public space available for distinctive local cultural expression. These differing attitudes comprise part of the diversity to be taken into account by all participants in making sense of the present and imagining the future.

Global forces make themselves felt on the local stage, says Jill Grant in The drama of democracy. Contention and dispute in community planning (1994). Grant uses a dramaturgical metaphor to examine the cultural implications of local planning, with specific reference to two case studies in peninsular Halifax. International and national policies and examples are evoked in local debates, says Grant, by all players: politicians, planners, and citizens. “Local practice occurs within [an] international and national context and frequently refers to it” (p. 143).

Chapter 14, continued >


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