From the post-World War II decolonization to
about mid-1980s, mainstream development
thinking has focussed on ‘economics’, on the
one-dimensional abstraction of homo
economicus, to the exclusion of all else: specially
the socio-cultural context in which development
might take place. This divorce of ‘development
from ‘culture’, however, was "poor economics"
a hard fact, which the international community
has come to discover gradually, experientially.
The United Nations too was not found wanting
inits shared concern for culture. On 21 January
1988, it launched — under the aegis of Unesco
"The World Decade for Cultural Development"
in its effort to chiefly (a) strengthen awareness
of culttiral dimension of development, and (b)
enrich cultural identities the world over.
In the Indian capital, the Indira Gandhi National
Central for the Arts (IGNCA) has initiated a
multidisciplinary discourse on development
issues vis-a-vis the whole range of cultural
variables and definitions. Which: its newly-
- introduced series : Culture and Development
proposes to cover in entirety.
Integration of Endogenous Cultural Dimension
into Development — Volume 2 of the "Culture-
and-Development" series — takes the discourse
on: from the complex issues of ‘cultural identity’.
to the worldwide human problems stemming
from the development-planners’ unmindfulness
of endogenous cultures. Carrying 17
presentations of a Unesco-sponsored workshop
:19-23 April 1995 at IGNCA, New Delhi, it
questions the modern methods of development
which, evolved from the experience of the
industrialized world, have brought about neither
peace nor harmony, neither alleviation of poverty
nor socio-economic equality. Thus arguing why
current development processes call for serious
rethinking, the authors spell out not only the
urgency of integrating endogenous cultural
dimension into the paradigms of development,
but also the relevance of linking development
with the ethical basis of life and living. Also
included in the volume are several case studies,
with special reference to the Asian situation.
The contributors to this volume are reputed
scholars, planners and grassroots-level social
workers from China, India, Indonesia, Japan.
~ South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Baidyanath Saraswati, an anthropologist of
international eminence, is Unesco-Professor at
the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
New Delhi. And is former Professor of
Anthropology at the North-Eastern Hill
University; Fellow of the Indian Institute of
Advanced Study: and Visiting Professor at the
universities of Ranchi and Visva-Bharati.
Professor Saraswati’s published work comprises
a number of books and monographs, among
which notably figure Pottery-making Cultures
and Indian Civilization; Brahmanic Ritual
Traditions; Kashi : Myth and Reality, and
Spectrum of the Sacred — besides his edited
titles, like Tribal Thought and Culture: Prakrti :
Primal Elements — the Oral Tradition. Prakrti:
Man in Nature; Computerizing Cultures, and
Cross-Cultural Lifestyle Studies.
There can be no real exploration of the artistic experience, its diverse expressions and
its power of communication without investigating the nature of the cultural fabric
which ignites the creative energies. It was with this intention that the Indira Gandhi
National Centre for the Arts initiated a number of dialogues on the cultural fabric in
its Cross-Cultural Lifestyle Studies Programme. It endeavoured to measure the
immeasurable under the aegis of Unesco-sponsored International Workshop on
"Cross-Cultural Lifestyle Studies with Multimedia Computerizable Documentation",
which brought forth very complex issues of measure, indicators and categories which
would establish norms for comparison of cultures. It was recognised that while
analytical studies could be done and should be done, it was necessary to recognize
the very nature of the fluid dynamics of a culture. In the next seminar, the Indira
Gandhi National Centre for the Arts went a little further in exploring what constituted
Cultural Identity and Development. Undoubtedly, this is a world-wide debate and
many conferences have been held both under the aegis of Unesco and independently.
The IGNCA’s Conference was different because it focussed attention on the nature
of Cultural Identity through a discussion on the findings of actual pilot studies
conducted in different parts of rural India. The proceedings of this Seminar
constituted the First Volume, entitled Interface of Cultural Identity and Development.
A stage had now been reached not only to speak of the Interface of Cultural Identity
and Development, but also to suggest positive strategies for integrating all that could
be understood by the term ‘Indigenous Cultural Knowledge and Skills’ into the
processes and programmes of, what is called, ‘Development’. These seminars
brought together theorists as also people who had worked at the field level in different
parts of Asia as also different domains of human activity. It was clear from the
discussion, as is also evident from the papers included in this Volume, that most
participants were of the view that there was need to re-think and, therefore, design
appropriate cultural information models which could be used by the policy-makers
and planners. Many amongst the participants were clearly of the view that some of
the most creative aspects of human endeavour relating to his or her immediate
environment, rearing of families, indigenous skills and techniques, were not fully
used or positively employed in the programmes of socio-economic development.
Thus, the indigenous cultural knowledge and the indigenous knowledge of skills
become marginalised. Consequently, often the authentic Self of a culture is
uprooted, alienated and disempowered. The experience of many Asian countries
Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Korea—has brought to the fore
the unnecessary tension which has been created between the dynamics of a uniform
monolithic model of development and world-views and lifestyle as evident in the
multiple models of social order still extant in many parts of Asia. The participants
were also clear that a sizable body of information and knowledge regarding
environment, natural resources, agro-techniques and much else is transmitted
through verbal and non-verbal modes of communication. All this is either negated
or not cognized in the evolution of policies on development by nation-states. There
was unanimity on the view that the notion of development could not be restricted to
measures of GNP and GDP or only economic development measured in terms of
surplus money and power of purchase, but, had to include human-development so
that the creative potential of each individual and community could be exploited to
the fullest. No longer was it advisable to count human beings as economically-
Many papers in this Volume refer to the need for integrating indigenous and
modern technologies, modern science and ancient wisdom and practically all
cautioned against the risk of deculturisation and cultural alienation.
Several authors in the Volume have suggested the evolution of plural models
for a programme of sustainable development for diverse parts of the world.
‘Decentralisation in planning’, ‘plurality of models’, ‘inclusiveness’ of all sections of
population were the key words of this discourse.
At a more fundamental level, these papers also ask the question: Can a world-
view based on man’s domination over nature sustain this Earth? These papers
also question the very principle of uniformity of cultures or growth patterns of the
human species. The recognition of diversity and of plurality within a universality of
approach and possibilities of dialogue is the running-thread. The adoption of the
principle of complementarity in its most scientific connotation and not conflict and
linear progress, was recommended by all. A conclusion which was evident from the
discussion, was that in most countries of Asia, the notion of viewing developmental
sectors separate from non-developmental. sectors was both illogical and
counterproductive. All dimensions of the human constituted development. A
socio-economic man could only be truly productive if he or she was also a
harmoniously balanced person recognizing difference and diversity. He could be
creative only within a milieu of mutual interdependence and inter-connections and
not in the competition of the market place.
The discussion at the Seminar, naturally, concentrated then on what constitutes
modelling societies and how a society can be modelled? Many suggestions were put
forth. Most advised against acceptance of derived uniform global models based on
linearity on the one hand, and freezing of cultures as museum pieces in specific
historical situations, on the other. There was a very lively discussion on what
constitutes ‘creativity’ ‘cultural heritage’, ‘empowerment of gender’. The participants
pressed the need for the establishment of more meaningful networks of information
and cultural communication within countries, nations and the world. Prof. B.N.
Saraswati has touched upon the details of the discussions and the distinctive
perspectives of many distinguished people. I hope that we have been able to bring
together the different but important voices on a global issue. The moot question
remains whether there is the inevitability of a global village and globalisation on the
basis of homogenisation or whether each unique human being, individually and
collectively, should have a global consciousness while being deeply rooted to his
specificity with a respect of diversity.
The organisers of our forum have proposed that I speak of whether or not there can
be an Asian Model of Development. Before I take up this challenge, I feel obliged to
cite an old adage: ‘The sage asks questions; the fool answers them’. So rather than
try to provide any definitive answer — and thereby betray my own culture's
traditional wisdom — I would like to suggest some possible points of view from which
we may be able to give depth to the question of ‘endogenous models of development’,
or what the United Nations has termed the ‘cultural dimension of development’. And
I would like to do this by asking you to consider how the enormous global problems
facing humankind on the Earth today cannot be seen apart from culture.
The concept of culture is difficult to define — a liquid in an age of solids, as it
has been described. However, we would not be far wrong if we were to characterise
it as everything that we create, preserve, and transmit as a group, or — in a wider
context — as a species. Such a definition has the advantage of encompassing
culture both in the restricted sense of the arts, and in the broader sense of a ‘whole
way of life, material, intellectual and spiritual’. Culture, then, is something fashioned
by humankind: it comprises all the expressions of our creativity, including language,
science and technology, architecture, literature, music and art. It is an intimate
part of the way we live, the way we think, and the way we see the world. It includes
all our beliefs, attitudes, customs, and social relations. Culture transmits to us an
intrinsic understanding of the way the world works, and leads us to see what is
important within that world. In a word, culture represents our whole system of
values, those conscious and explicit as well as those that are unconscious and
Culture seen in this light — our cultures — cannot, indeed must not, be viewed
apart from the other great issues of our day, whether the destruction of the
environment, the population explosion, or whatever. The global crisis facing
humanity at the dawn of the 21st century is, more than anything else, a reflection
of our collective values, behaviour and life-style. In short, we are, as a species, the
agents of our own misfortune — and indeed, of the very Earth’s misfortune.
Is it not a curious thing that, at the very time that our existence on the planet
has become a threat not just to ourselves but also to the biosphere which spawned
us, we have for the first time the means, if not the wisdom, to do something about
it. So while humankind’s collective presence on Earth has new-found global
consequences, simultaneously there has arisen the possibility of our developing a
global awareness of our situation and of the repercussions of our communal
actions both for ourselves and for all elements of life in the world around us.
Globalisation is a material phenomenon to be sure — global warming, for example,
affects us all, no matter where we live nor from where the pollutants derive. But
thanks to the power of modern communications technology and media, it also
exhibits the intangible quality we call awareness of consciousness — what happens
in Bosnia, or-Rwanda, or even, for that matter, on the slopes of Mount Everest or
the banks of the Ganges, is now immediately accessible, as perception, to people all
over the world. The analogy of humankind as an infant, taking its first tentative
steps, uttering its first words, becoming not only aware of itself but aware too of the
world around it, immediately springs to mind and rings almost too true for comfort.
At the same time, this growing awareness of ourselves and of the world around
us has had other, unforeseen, consequences. One of the most significant of these
has been the rapid breakdown of old structures and control mechanisms —
external in terms of political and economic structures, and internal in terms of
shared values and codes of behaviour. This is accompanied by a lack — at least for
the present — of coherent new structures, of new values and codes of behaviour
with which to respond appropriately to the completely new situation in which we
find ourselves. The result is that in many parts of the world, this uncertainty is
attended by a kind of instinctive and frequently turbulent retreat into traditionalism,
tribalism, and narrow ethnic or religious identities, where all the emphasis is on
the difference between cultures and peoples, and none on their sameness. It is as
if something old and massive is in its death throes, and something new and as yet
undefined is struggling to be born in its shadow.
So the real question, or rather the first question, that we have to face may be
that of the survival of human civilisation as we know it, as well as of a large part of
the biosphere. As the old adage has it, ‘Nothing focuses a person's mind so well as
his (or her!) impending death’. I wonder whether we, as a species, understand that
this may well be our collective situation today.
Now I would like to come back to what I said earlier: culture cannot, indeed
must not, be divorced from the other great issues of our day. And I would like to
illustrate this remark by examining two of the most pressing problems facing the
world at the dawn of the 21st century — population and the environment — and
the manner in which they relate to the culture, and cultures, of humankind.
The recent UN Summit on Population and Development held in Cairo brought
home to the world as never before the scale of the human population explosion.
The United Nations estimates that by the year 2050, the world’s total population
will reach somewhere between 8 and 12 billion people, from its current level of
about 5.5 billion. The current increase is well over 90 million persons annually,
which is equivalent to the entire population of Mexico. And while it took 125 years
for the world’s population to increase from 1 to 12 billion, the last increment of one
billion persons was achieved in one-tenth of that time, in 13 years!
While human reproduction is clearly a biological function, there are also potent
cultural imperatives at work. Everything associated with sexuality, marriage and
childbearing has vital cultural and religious connotations that go far beyond the
mere ‘biology’ involved. Every culture has definite teachings and norms in this
regard, along with powerful inducements to behave in this way or that, and
frequently also unpleasant sanctions for those who do not conform — not only in
this world, but even in the next!
But in spite of this, the great majority of population programmes throughout
the world have concentrated from the very beginning almost entirely on the
technical aspects of family planning (provision of birth control devices, information
on fertility cycles and conception, types of services, achievement of quantitative
targets, etc.), while almost no attention has been given to the socio-cultural contexts
in which such programmes are implemented. And yet religious beliefs, traditional
relationships between men and women, family size and structure, marriage age,
the status of women, taboos on the mere mention of sex (even in its clinical sense)
in public or even in private, to name but a few aspects, are manifestly of crucial
importance. As long and often bitter experience has taught us, family planning
programmes are not merely a matter of providing contraceptive means and
information: they touch the very fabric of the individual and of society and involve
the most intimate physical, cultural and even spiritual levels of those concerned.
It is all very well to talk about the 'global village'. It is wonderful to have a planetary
network of communication. It is exciting to use the internet. But what if all this means
the darker side of the dawn? The ultimate issue in the problematics are: What is the
`global village' like? What is its approach to human development? How is it related
to 'untranscended technology'? Can we see ourselves and hear our voices in the
new technocentric society? Can we distinguish the drop of water from the water
of the drop? Can we establish external relations without developing internal relations?
Would not globalization lead to sterile uniformity? This collection of essays is the second
of a series of IGNCA publications on 'Culture and Development', based on papers
presented at a Unesco-sponsored expert meeting on 'Integration of Endogenous Cultural
Dimension into Development', held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in
New Delhi on 19-25 April 1995. These essays aim at:
(a) conceptualizing culture,
(b) planning cultural policies,
(c) challenging development infallibility,
(d) considering the cultural dimension, and
(e) building cultural models.
The present volume takes up some of the aspects of culture and development
which were dealt with in the preceding volume, Interface of Cultural Identity and
Both the volumes pose a long list of well-formulated questions. Questioning leads
us to a state of perplexity, a very high state when something in us is awakened.
We know that we do not know.
Culture is a common word. Each culture defines itself in terms of its
organic nature that distinguishes it from other cultures: Technical definitions,
provided by philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists, and culturologists are numerous. Many
of these academic definitions, which use the instrument of logos, are standardized
models of the mind. The self-definition of a culture, which approaches mythos, is a
moral message already integrated into society. The modern tendency is to reduce
mythos to logos. The concern of this volume is to define culture in relation to
Unesco defines culture as a set of distinctive spiritual and material, intellectual
and emotional characteristics which define a society or social group. In addition to
the arts and letters, it encompasses ways of life, the fundamental rights of the
person, value systems, traditions and beliefs (1982 Mexico Conference).
The importance of this definition lies in its globality, but it has certain limitations.
It does not take into account the various manifestations of culture. Nor does it seem
to offer an alternative. In fact, it is grounded in the Western world-view with
The authors of these essays have considered the various conceptions of culture
at different levels of diversity. Their cultural backgrounds should have important
In the prologue, Francis Childe reinforces the Unesco definition from another
angle. As is evident in the philosophical understanding, culture represents our
whole system of values, those conscious and explicit as well as those that are
unconscious and implicit.
We might go further still and lay stress on the multiplicity of perspectives on
culture. S.C. Malik points out the error in anthropological-ethnographic knowledge:
‘There is an inherent unidimensionality and linearity in the domain of objective
rationality which blocks out experience (subjective and intuition). Understanding
culture is not about information categories, it is a learning process that can only
come in experiencing, and hence the linking of the inside experiencing world and
the outside analytical one is crucial.’
Defining culture is terms of ‘man in nature’, Baidyanath Saraswati constructs
fivefold conceptual types, namely ‘dreamtime culture’, "cosmocentric culture’,
‘theocentric culture’, ‘anthropocentric culture’ and ‘technocentric culture’. Of
these, the first three types maintain that life and culture originate dependently in the
total context of divine nature which is changing and yet not changing. The other
two types form a built environment disconnected with nature. Here the system of
man and the system of machine are in conflict. Defined in this way the primacy of
an essentialist conception of culture lies in its ‘focus’ rather than in its context. P.K.
Misra takes the idea of cultural focus further when he writes that ‘each culture is, in
a way, unique. In the process of its growth it develops its own emphases’.
Minoru Kasai touches upon a crucial problem that could easily be the starting
point for understanding culture in relation to development. He deals with it
systematically: ‘Tradition as culture,’ he writes, ‘has been used frequently as a
simple contrast to development and as such has taken on almost a pejorative
meaning. Traditionalism refers to a situation where one takes the past uncritically
as a model for limitation. Thus, nothing new arises from tradition identified with
traditionalism. This is a narrow and unhelpful understanding of tradition. Tradition
in terms of cultural identity indicates the capacity of a society to maintain continuity,
coherence and integrity, inspired and sustained by meaning. The slogan wakon-
yoasi (Japanese spirit and Western science), which seems to show a rigid relationship
between tradition and development and has inspired development in Japan, reveals
a problematic and fatal condition of the modern world.’
New terms have been invented in other languages and cultures too, to take up
the burden. Thailand, for instance, has coined wattana-dharma for culture, which,
as Amara Raksasataya has mentioned, means ‘development, growth or evolution
from an original state, things that make a group grow, a group’s way of life, order,
harmonious progress of the country, and good moral standard of the people’. In
India, the Hindu word sanskriti is used for culture, even though there is an inherent
contradiction between the simple exegesis of sanskriti (from samskara, divine
process of body cleansing) as the spiritual ordering of life and the conventional
meaning of culture as man’s cultivation of material objects. The precariousness of
interpreting an indigenous word to fit into the shoes of an alien conception of
culture is quite obvious, but this is a common experience flowing from the
existential interpretation of a given context.
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