THE ROLE OF CULTURE
CULTURAL EVALUATION IN URBAN AREAS
ROLE OF CULTURAL TRAITS IN EVALUATION
EVALUATION OF CULTURAL TRAITS,COMPLEXES AND ATTITUDES
We need to establish a recognisable framework that will designate the often-ignored individual expressions of culture as vital for the dynamic of cities. New evaluations, new indicators will need to measure the contributions local culture plays addressing the expanding priorities of human development objectives across the world. Two key aspects would need to be considered in the diagnostic methodology of prioritising cultural expressions to international urban development policy makers:
Firstly, urban policy makers would need to determine how the strengths of local cultures introduces both human values and vibrant economies into the community that markedly raise the level of prosperity and quality of life worth living.
Secondly, urban policies makers would identify the importance of the diversity of local cultures, found uniquely within urban settlements, as instrumental to the development process.
Freedom approach indicators to development initiatives would focus on measuring the freedoms or obstructions to the indivudal's capabiltiiy to engage in the cultural expressions of his or her choice. The indicators would concentrate on the activities of everyday living and the process of communication often in the domain of spoken words; beginning with the social, structural and spatial expectations of the home, the choice of food, medicine and the freedom for the individual to take part in cycle of seasonal celebrations. Cultural freedom indicators would measure the freedom or obstructions to meaningful rituals inseparably related to ensuring participation in the entire cycle of the individual's life, including births, initiations, marriages and death.
The obstructions to cultural expressions would be made observable through measuring the unfreedoms blocking the individual's choice to cultural expression. However the necessary diagnostic evaluation (to identify the nature of what has created the obstructions to the particular cultural expression) could take the form of several unfreedoms.
For example, lets take a migrant family who want to design a new-build home based on specific cultural values within a local community in an urban environment. The individual may discover the obstruction to his or her preferred choice might be due to uniform planning regulations at the regional level that disallows any discrepancies to the rule. To address this obstruction might need collective discussions or political action. Perhaps the channels of communication are not clear as to what is acceptable or not. The unfreedom in that case is lack of transparency. Or it could be lack of financial capability, lack of tenure and not enough economic security. The problem maybe the absence of trained craftsmen or the absence of tools or materials. In which case the training for specific building skills might be the solution and would be identified as social opportunities.
Understanding the obstruction would take the form of participatory discussions that identified the components of the obstruction and then linked these components to Amartya Sen's five freedom framework. The evaluator would need to question into which category does the obstruction fall; is it to do with economic security or transparency? In this way the freedom framework would make observable the origins of the obstruction to cultural expression and the individual would be in a position to prioritise which project initiative would introduce the correct actions to remedy the obstructions and remove the unfreedom
So let us now re-consider the values that spring from within the citizen. They relate more to the rewarding satisfaction of exploring ones own potential and character. These are the values that provide guidelines to the intelligent, instinctive, emotional and spiritual realm that determines ethical actions and integrates social behaviour and structure in communities.
At the macro level these shared values can hold communities together and are the keystone in the building and maintaining of sustainable settlements. These values can inform the underlying physical designs of the built environment and determine visual characteristics recognised in the vast diversity of vernacular and cultural traditions. Therefore development frameworks must expand the success of how values are expressed particularly in the spoken oral domain and oral traditions of learning and participation and the process of social behaviour, which lies at the heart of development initiatives.
The fear that all cultural expressions are in some way imprisoned to static traditions with no mechanism to adjust to modern life misses the point completely. The validity will be judged by both the quality of life and prosperity to the individual's capability to choose a life worth living.
For these reasons Amartya Sen refers to social choice theory, participatory freedoms and the continued genesis of ethics and values intrinsic to the overarching goals of human development. Few economists can so substantially link the history of diverse cultural values to the origins of participation, freedom and democracy, nor recognise these components as necessary for increasing the capability of the individual to choose a quality of life worth living. He uses the word consequential, derived from Latin, consequentia, meaning to "follow closely," or in philosophy "consequentialism" being the doctrine describing how the morality of an action is to be judged solely by its consequence.
It becomes clear how social choice theory demands the priority of choice to be that of the individual and consequentially the result will be the well-being of the individual including his or her relationship to other people and even the sustainability of the environment. Therefore according to Sen, the success of international development goals would reflect the degree to which the individual can live the life he or she values living, not only as a distinct individual, but an individual related to a family and a community within urban settlements of cities internationally.
Seyyed Nasr, a recognised spokesmen for the Islamic world today, acknowledges that "freedom alone without guiding ethics and values to guide meaningful action is capable of mass genocide. Ours is the only time in history in which human beings claim for themselves absolute rights with no respect for the rest of creation. If absolute freedom and human rights means the right to actions that destroy the web of life on the planet, the dangers of freedom are much greater than the benefits."
From a historic perspective, in Amartya Sen's opinion, it appears there have been previous occasions when ethics and values are overpowered by desire, greed or power and then rediscovered through the recognition of fundamental spiritual principles.In the chapter "Culture and Human Rights" in Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen retells an ancient story of Emperor Ashoka who in the third century BC commanded the largest empire of all the Indian Kings. His attention turned to the concerns of public ethics after witnessing the horrific carnage of his successful battles. In this case he realised the consequence of his success had created immense suffering for people. He questioned how his citizens would ever recover from such trauma and loss? His solution was to cover the country with edicts, stone inscriptions inspired by the Buddhist culture that described values of good life. In those days access to books were limited and communication took place primarily in the oral tradition with symbols and words crafted into distinguishing features in the built environment.
"A man must not do reverence to his own sect or disparage that of another man without reason. Depreciation should be for specific reason only, because the sects of other people all deserve reverence for one reason or another. By thus acting a man exalts his own sect, and at the same time does service to the sects of other people"
Edict of Erragudi
Remarkably Ashoka foresaw that in order to achieve his objective of well-being for the people of his empire, he would need to encourage and implement what we would now call conflict resolution strategies. Having experienced it himself, Ashoka relied on the hidden capability within any individual's potential to recognise the merit of tolerance between the diversity of cultural groups. Ashoka used the teachings of the Buddhist Culture to stir the motivation of tolerance between the diverse cultural groups of his empire. He believed the merit of making these values accessible, indeed experiential to all citizens would work both to relieve the suffering of the people and further the dynamic of economic security and a quality of life worth living across his empire.
Although an ancient story, today we witness how even with the technological communication and superiority of our civilization, there is a prevalence of growing cultural conflicts and bombings effecting major historic centres across the world, targeting in most cases innocent human beings and irreplaceable treasured cultural heritage. The multi-layered complexity of cultural conflicts (more often than not characterised by absence of economic security, social opportunities and lack of political freedom) can wipe out years of seemingly successful international development initiatives. At the same time cultural knowledge in the form of experiential shared values and ethics, has the potential to provide the solutions.
With such enormous significance it is hard to imagine why the role of Culture has previously been neglected by policy makers involved with cities and human settlements. However, as has been explained earlier in this paper, the consequences of previous income based measures identified the importance of material assets and not the values and capabilities that determine ever expanding freedom of social agency.For these reasons the importance of Values passed down in spoken words, oral folk stories, rituals and cultural expressions has been overlooked and dismissed without understanding the links to the individual's well being and livelihood. Indeed the success of the Mahila Milan women's saving group, now replicated in 50 cities in India and 11 countries (discussed in depth in the Removing Unfreedoms Mumbai workshop report) is a process of savings that takes place solely through the use of spoken words-- as the majority of the people are illiterate. These passed on values are not a heritage of a past history, but values continually reinvesting the future with new potential and meaning.
CULTURAL EVALUATION IN URBAN AREAS
The urban settlement in the developing world could be seen as a domain of two cultures that relate to each other. Such a coexistence could be the result of a historical process or one that traumatic events precipitate. The one culture is the macro-culture dominant and codified in written rules regulations and receptacle of the dominant written culture. The other is the 'informal city', as Arif Hasan terms it, which can be seen to be the meso-culture, the culture of the oral world, the culture that has migrated from the countryside, the culture that negotiates, one that is reluctant to codify and place constraints on its options. We have coined the word meso-culture from the Greek word 'mesos' meaning 'middle'. Such a culture signifies a city of temporary stability, mediating its spaces and forms between the pressures of the micro-world of individual citizens and the macro-world of written civic authority and order.
In the domain of the inhabitants of this meso-culture, the community meshes its activities not along functional regulations but on the basis of a permissiveness bordering on the turbulence of a moving stream, where tolerance and acceptability of the ensuing chaos is almost an asset to use and exploit in new ways. It defines its cultural identity and potential through the interaction of the dominant macro-culture.It is generally seen that the inhabitants living in the domain of the meso-culture have the greatest constraints on their freedom. The inhabitants of the macro-culture who believe in civic order actively resist them. There is a need to understand that the economy of the city becomes dynamic because of the interaction of the two cultures in a special relationship that is interdependent. In many cities, (Bombay, Karachi), the majority of inhabitants live in the domain of the meso-culture even though they may occupy marginal lands for their habitation. They provide the greatest opportunities for initiating development because they are the un-free with potentials far beyond their opportunities and rights. In order to include them in the process of development it is useful to include in their evaluation, their own cultural constraints and unfreedoms .
An important role in this democratic evaluation procedure is played by cultural identity. Cultural expressions are linked to identity formations. Cultural clashes and identity crises are interlinked. In a community, cultural characteristics influence the forms of production and distribution. These forms are part of the alternative means of development. For instance a market oriented community economy may use its surplus production for a different purpose than one that uses its surplus for social exchanges. Instead of accumulating surpluses, a community may use its surplus for maximising reciprocity and enhancing social relationships. Dr Martin Von Hildebrand has shown how such an alternative development model works. Thus evaluating the subjective role of culture and identity could form an important part of the evaluative process.ROLE OF CULTURAL TRAITS IN EVALUATIONS
Urban communities include mixed migrant populations where daily life is no longer integrated with many of the traits and attributes associated to a functioning historical cultural identity. These absent traits include a recognised shared history; geography or a cohesive social structure connected to spiritual values and belief systems. The urban migrant population is physically and emotionally dislocated from its previous geographical and social character and begins to adopt a new cultural identity that is formulated in response to the role of the dominant culture into whose domain they have migrated.
Encouraging urban development initiatives in culturally dislocated migrant populations requires serious preparatory work by development agencies to understand the circumstances out of which new aspirations for a quality of life and cultural identity may arise. As Hulya Turgut explains, the integration with the city life may take the form of a series of processes, which reflect physical, and socio -cultural characteristics of the past cultural identity. Important changes may begin to take place in their lifestyles and aspirations with reference to a new cultural identity as they experience urbanisation as an inflexible collection of interactive exterior forces.
It may be that the migrant population has recently escaped an oppressive social or political situation, or abandoned a failing rural economy. Nevertheless "acculturation patterns" of migrant populations in urban settings initially have been shown to reflect physical and socio -cultural characteristics of the region from which they've migrated. In these initial instances a cultural memory is functioning and forms part of the specific identity of the group. During the continued process of "acculturation" previous cultural values and ties get weaker and may even disappear so that the urban settlements transform and reformulate a new set of complex relationships determined by the exterior forces and a new preference of lifestyle. Under the external influences there are unyielding pressures to adopt new values or to assimilate others. While many cultural traits have been remarkably persistent in a period of great technological and political change, others have been devalued often with damaging results to both rural and urban aspirations and environments.
Consistently the primary vehicle for both the transference of cultural knowledge and the creation of new aspirations unconsciously or with intent takes place verbally often times in the realm of unwritten words. Another method is through the physical body memory process characteristic of many cultures. Both the individual and collective experience of the spoken unwritten word originates in the memory realm of the folk and oral knowledge of a collective conscience of people. This is not necessarily rooted to the previous geographical home of the migrant people nevertheless the spoken unwritten word is a fundamental characteristic in shaping and preserving cultural identity and needs to be considered in the evaluation process. In this way apparently hidden cultural characteristics may migrate into the informal city by way of a spoken unwritten folk memory and express/ assert itself or remain silent. The degree to which this memory is set in motion determines the expression of the cultural identity in relation to the formal city or the new environment that may or may not be understood applicable or appreciated.Indicators need to consider both the constraints and capabilities of these cultural trait complexes and how they may become part of new reference values within urban development policies.
EVALUATION OF CULTURAL TRAITS,COMPLEXES AND ATTITUDES
Culture identity can be identified by a variety of traits, attributes and expressions that are all encompassed in the potentials of the individuals of the community. In formulating evaluations, according to Paul Oliver, a cluster of these potentials and characteristics are employed to portray and distinguish races or human groups gathering in specific geographical areas.
Generally speaking cultural traits, attributes and expressions can be organised into specific areas of observation beginning with the family as a social unit and the larger social framework, which considers organisation and values of the family within a community with particular reference to understanding the aspirations and capabilities of the community. Recognition of the interaction and dependence of cultural traits has led to these clusters of characteristics being regarded as "trait complexes" which can be related and then mapped. These are the individual human components of culture which are broadly common to most, sometimes all people, but which have specific and distinguishing expressions contributing to the character and potential of the individual within the collective community.
Beginning with the Family and home Paul Oliver explains there are several clusters of cultural traits expressed in the unwritten and oral realm that would need to be considered within Sen's Five Freedom Framework. New evaluations would need to consider the potentials and constraints to the individuals ability to choose a quality of life worth living.
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