Cultural Theory

Extended workshop report now released on Sustainable Creative Cities: the role of the arts in globalised urban contexts

This post comes to you from Cultura21

The extended report (59 pages) is now available: click here for download (PDF file). This longer report contains detailed discussions from the workshop exchanges, as well as several ‘good practice’ cases and further reflections elaborated by workshop participants in the couple of months following the workshop.

Please join the discussion in the forum!

About the workshop

Prof. Dr. Masayuki Sasaki, giving the impulse presentation for the workshop

On October 2-3 2010, Sacha Kagan of the Institute of Cultural Theory, Research and the Arts (IKKK, Leuphana University Lueneburg) organized a workshop together with Prof. Dr. Masayuki Sasaki, director of the Urban Research Plaza, Osaka City University, for the Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF), as part of the official side-event of the 8th ASEM Summit of Heads of State, i.e. the 4th “Connecting Civil Societies Conference” in Brussels.

Sacha Kagan synthesizing a few insights on day 2 of the workshop

Workshop participants discussed issues related to “Sustainable Creative Cities: the role of the arts in globalised urban contexts” and elaborated policy recommendations for the 8th ASEM Summit.

The discussions are continuing beyond the two days of the workshop itself, as witnessed by the extended report.

Christina Stadlbauer, Camille Dumas and Kyo Zapanta discussing recommendations

Shorter report

Besides the extended report edited by Sacha Kagan and Katelijn Verstraete (Assistant Director, Department of Cultural Exchange, ASEF) which we are releasing now, a 4-pages briefing report was already released on November 18th 2010: Click here for direct download:PDF file ; click here for the news item on the Culture360 webportal (from Nov. 18th 2010 when the briefing report was released).

Cultura21 is a transversal, translocal network, constituted of an international level grounded in several Cultura21 organizations around the world.

Cultura21′s international network, launched in April 2007, offers the online and offline platform for exchanges and mutual learning among its members.

The activities of Cultura21 at the international level are coordinated by a team representing the different Cultura21 organizations worldwide, and currently constituted of:

– Sacha Kagan (based in Lüneburg, Germany) and Rana Öztürk (based in Berlin, Germany)
– Oleg Koefoed and Kajsa Paludan (both based in Copenhagen, Denmark)
– Hans Dieleman (based in Mexico-City, Mexico)
– Francesca Cozzolino and David Knaute (both based in Paris, France)

Cultura211 is not only an informal network. Its strength and vitality relies upon the activities of several organizations around the world which are sharing the vision and mission of Cultura21
Go to Cultura21

The strange shape of environmental politics

I’m hazarding there are three possible responses to environmental politics:

1) The eco-modernists. (Beloved of big business, progressive bureaucrats and technophiles; believe if we work hard, eco-modernism can save us).
2) The “Keep Calm And Carry On” contingency. (Most people. Suspicious of change, and therfore not keen on the above, or…)
3) The radical alternative-ists. (Loathed by both the above. Broadly utopian and egalitarian and unlikely to have much purchase with category 1) who regard them as a bunch of feckless Luddites.)

These are leaky categories of course and we probably have a bit of each in all of us. Now I’m toying with how to reconcile the above with the Mary Douglas/Michael Thompson/Matthew Taylor ideas of cultural theory, because on first glance they don’t fit too snugly. Cultural theory sees society as containing separate cultures that are in constant conflict. Mary Douglas wrote in  A History of Grid and Group Cultural Theory:

In conflict compromise counts as betrayal. Opponents dismiss out of
hand evidence from other kinds of institutions. According to CT, their intransigence is neither irrational nor immoral. It expresses their loyalties and moral principles, and their responsibilities to other members of their society. 


… which is enough to make anyone who’s been involved even glancingly in environmental politics emit a knowing chortle.

CT then proposes you apply a grid to any society to try and identify those cultural loyalties. It suggests you look for four groups – the heirarchical, the egalitarian, the individualist and the fatalist. For a fuller explanation of these groups, look here.

I tie myself in knots trying to apply the theory to the environment issue (though Michael Thompson has attempted it in an essay called Cultural Theory, Climate Change and Clumsiness). To me, the four CT groups don’t fit at all neatly with my three categories.

Category 1) contains both the heirarchical and individualist. It would be well represented by Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot Flat And Crowded,
a book which suggests that American entrepreneurial know-how is the
only way to save the planet and which John Gray took apart spectacularly in his
review in last Sunday’s Observer.

Category 2) contains both the individualist and the fatalist, apparently happily co-existing.

Only category 3) appears to fit as the so-called egalitarian approach, but even that is dubious on closer examination. As right-wing critics of George Monbiot might say with some justification, and as the NUM have said about Climate Camp, there’s nothing that egalitarian about much of the green movement. 

If you follow the CT line, I suspect you’d say that the fact that the CT grid group doesn’t quite fit my categories is a potentially good thing, as it suggests alliances can be made that form what Michael Thompson calls a “clumsy” solution.

That may be true. I don’t know. At the moment the three groups I outlined at the top regard each other with the kind of contempt that would make even the doughtiest anthropologist’s toes curl.

Matthew Taylor is willing to explore a great deal of complexity in his understanding of those four paradigms – pointing out the conflicting paradigms at work behind Kyoto, say. I know Mary Douglas herself studied this when looking at environmental groups in the US in Risk and Culture which drew unflattering disctinctions between heirarchical environmental groups like the Sierra Club and righidly egalitarian ones like Friends of the Earth.

For the moment, I’m probably missing something, but I can’t really make the CT paradigm sit neatly onto the strange non-traditional shape that environmental politics has thrown up. That does nothing to challenge underlying fundamental insight behind Mary Douglas’s work; that problems like this have a crucial cultural dimension that is misunderstood by politicians, behaviouralists and other scientists. For that, take a look at, which Sacha Kagan and other academics have been working on for the past few years to conceive an inter-disciplinary approach.

Photo: Disrupted Ecosystems: Great Barrier Reef, Belize, by Susannah Sayler 2006. Courtesy of the Canary Project.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog