Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
8-9 September 2005
Multi-layered European identities
Theory and practice
Cultural cooperation’s magic triangle
Education as cultural practice
Where meaning escapes our grasp, personal lives and social life lose sight of their purpose. Meaning lends reason to life, and values underpin the meanings we attach to and derive from our lives. Cultures comprise recognisable Patterns of Meanings, to use the title of anthropologist Ruth Benedict’s classic analysis. These, in turn, provide frameworks for constructing, positioning and amending identities together with the scope for diversity amongst them. In other words, culture lends coherence to the ways in which we come to understand ourselves and others as both autonomous subjects and members of shared communities, which may – and today largely do – encompass considerable internal diversity. The fields of both productive and negative tension between identity and diversity in contemporary European culture are visibly and palpably restructuring the challenges facing cultural cooperation policies and programmes. How should Council of Europe perspectives and activities respond?
The colloquium placed dialogue and exchange at the centre of its agenda, with the aim of fostering a positive balance between, on the one hand, enhancing social cohesion through shared identity in Europe and, on the other hand, supporting social inclusion through affirming diversity in Europe. Cultural cooperation itself covers a broad, diverse spectrum of contexts and activities. This colloquium accorded particular priority to education as a field of cultural practice – a crucial context for the formation of identity and community, for building commitment to active participation, respect for human rights and a confident approach to living with difference and diversity. The reflections that follow do not summarise the content of the individual contributions – these speak for themselves – but they rather draw inspiration from the dialogue and exchange between those contributions and the discussions these prompted amongst all colloquium participants.
Multi-layered European identities
Enlightened cosmopolitans living in 21st century Europe regard multi-layered identities as a desirable state of affairs, an emblem of high social status and an attribute of the ‘good citizen’ in a post-modern polity. Such identities are by no means a post-modern invention, but the value and meaning we attach to them are culturally more salient than in the past. They are also socially and economically more widely available than they have probably ever been before: formal education (officially) underwrites the aims of open democracies; non-formal learning via exchange and mobility programmes reaches more young people than ever before; informal learning in the everyday life of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic societies is becoming part of common culture.
And yet it was only four decades ago that R. D. Laing’s boundary-breaking phenomenological-existential study of the social genesis of schizophrenia – The Divided Self – was published. One of the key features of Laing’s analysis lay in the effects of conflicting messages about the balance between the freedom and constraint to be oneself, one’s whole-self-in-the-world, and to be able to act accordingly. Laing thus places schizophrenia in relation to what he terms a ‘sane schizoid way of being in the world’ – in other words, he normalises multi-layered identities. At the time, this was a radical approach to the formation of subjectivity in a European intellectual and political environment that assumed discrete and coherent forms of identity based on apparently self-evident, unchanging social and cultural foundations. Today, it appears theoretically unremarkable.
Being sanely schizoid might then be seen as a core feature of post-modern European existence – and it implies the capacity to juggle Irving Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life as seemingly effortlessly as possible. Above all, good jugglers have to practice constantly: their performative competence lies in an astute combination of skills and experience, of knowledge-in-action. Acquiring, handling and acting out multi-layered identities are not unlike the ongoing process of becoming and being a good juggler. The problem is that the opportunities to do so are not equally available to everyone, whereas the capacity for flexible coordination and rapid response may not be evenly distributed either. In practice, it is not necessarily helpful to rent people out of their carefully, often painfully set-down roots in order to embark on routes for which they have no maps and no vehicles. If acquiring a European dimension to our ‘portfolios of codified identities’ (John Tomlinson, this colloquium) is, in principle, a desirable voyage, then the voyage must have a purpose. That purpose can only be described in terms of learning to live not only productively but also joyfully together – and in as much peace as we can sanely manage. We have to concede that the value of this purpose is not self-evident to everyone (whether living in Europe or elsewhere) and so making this self-evident to as many people as possible is a key challenge facing cultural cooperation in the future.
Theory and practice
The foundations of Council of Europe activities ultimately reside in a set of democratic, humanitarian and solidary values. These are high-level abstractions, and they can be readily understood and implemented in diverse ways. Opening up opportunities for dialogue and exchange at abstract level may be an intellectual feast, but it is also a Cartesian feast, a feast of the Enlightenment, a feast of Ulrich Beck’s first modern era or Anthony Giddens’ high modernity. We are all attached to this kind of feast, we know and trust the cuisine, and we have good reasons for our preferences.
The difficulty is that we no longer live ontologically in a Cartesian world, whereas there is good reason to suppose that its epistemology has lost at least persuasive cultural force and arguably its practical utility. Today’s transitive and dense world is much more amenable to understandings derived from chaos theory, which can locate highly complex order in apparently random events and processes. We are moving into much more process-oriented, action-based and open-ended heuristic frameworks for making sense of the world and ourselves within it. The chaos theory core concept of sensitive dependence is much more useful in such contexts, whilst the notion of initial conditions can only be arbitrary. How, indeed, could it be otherwise, given the speed and complexity of contemporary change? How could it be otherwise, in the light of democratisation and informalisation processes in society and culture, albeit so imperfectly realised in practice?
Both the diversification of identities and the democratisation of cultures – that is: processes of change and development – are rooted in the capacity to act or, in other words, to participate actively and equitably in la vie de la citÚ. Educational and cultural practices should be the foundation for future Council of Europe programmes and activities. Perhaps nothing very new is needed in this respect. Rather, we need to put what we know and value more effectively into good practice, and we need to include – in the sense of inviting in – a much wider range of people of all ages into the frame.
Cultural cooperation’s magic triangle
The symbolic cultural power of the triangle is no secret: in its double form as a six-point star, it resonates with the deepest roots of ancient European cultures. From the point of view of dialogue and exchange, triangulation is culturally and communicatively so powerful because it creates internal space for structured consensus and conflict. Georg Simmel’s Web of Human Affiliation cleanly elucidates the difference between dyads and triads in this respect: triads demand negotiation to maintain their common space, whereas dyads – though ultimately more fragile – can make do with domination if necessary. Triads are more difficult to manage, but they are structurally more stable. The colloquium themes can be set into a triangle made up of three lines, or routes, between its points, which create an internal ‘open space’.
The three points of the cultural cooperation triangle represent interlinked issues of cultures, politics and identities as discussed at the colloquium:
Cultural production (or creation) as a democratic, plural, interactive and dynamic process:
- a human invention and collective product, rooted in diversity as an empirical fact;
- a hybrid process in constant flux, holding the tension between similarity and difference;
- the practice of interpretation and translation between communities and discourses.
Political culture, cultural politics and the politics of culture:
- focusing on the dialectic between inclusion and exclusion;
- insisting on social cohesion as a matter of political will;
- recognising social power relations as shapers of cultural development.
Identities as chosen future projections:
- emerging from historically-specific generational movement creating values and meanings for European identity;
- emerging demands to shift the paradigms forward from a static discourse, embedded in the past, towards intergenerational dialogue and exchange;
- within a commitment to the freedom to choose and connect roots and routes.
The internal space between the points of the triangle represents the space for dialogue and negotiated commitment, played out in a productive tension between local responsibilities (roots) on the one hand, and cosmopolitan de-compartmentalisation (routes) on the other hand.
The challenge for the Council of Europe is simply to continue doing what it has long been doing: providing structured and structuring spaces for negotiation between local responsibilities and cosmopolitan de-compartmentalising, to do so as far as possible in an action-oriented way, and to strengthen monitoring and evaluation of impact and value-added.
Education as cultural practice
Education is more than a vehicle for the acquisition and transmission of culture. Such metaphors imply that education’s task is to adopt and convey externally specified values, aims and contents. It may do so in different ways – that is, using disparate vehicles – but its commission is conveyance. This view of education is misleadingly partial. Education in all its guises does not only transmit, that is, reproduce culture, although it certainly does so and this quite intentionally, as a glance at any educational policy document will immediately confirm. Education equally creates, that is, produces culture, not only in its capacity to shape individual subjectivities and generational perspectives but also because it is embedded in everyday experience and action. It is no secret that visualising and understanding the dialectic between production and reproduction in education and society is the core theoretical problematic for educational sociologists. In this context, few would place the thesis of relative autonomy in question, which in essence argues that education is simultaneously dependent on and independent of wider economy, society and culture.
Cultural cooperation policies cannot simply assume that education can and will act as a mere vehicle for the aims and contents that policy aims may wish to promote and enroot. All we know about educational change, innovation and reform tells us otherwise: this vehicle comes with its own drivers and enormous passenger diversity. At the very least, then, educational and cultural policies and programmes need to develop closer forms of critical partnership in order to work effectively together in the interests of furthering the core values upon which the Council of Europe’s Cultural Convention is based.
Modern educational systems represent national-cultural traditions in a variety of ways. Behind their formal structural surfaces (which increasingly reflect a small number of related options), their substance rapidly becomes highly complex and mutually opaque. Paradoxically, modern education in Europe has achieved not only high levels of standardisation within national borders but also high levels of differentiation between nation-states. This holds not only for curriculum content, qualifications structures and achievement profiles, but also for patterns of identity formation. The concept of the ‘good citizen’ may have changed over time, but the point of reference continues to be the nation-state in which the citizen lives: a good citizen is inevitably and above all a good national citizen. This is indisputably what national education systems essentially convey, and this is what national educational policies intend that they should convey. This is, in other words, very much an example of how education acts as a vehicle for cultural reproduction: the idea of the nation-state has become deeply entangled with those of culture, ethnicity and language. Ideally, all these are supposed to concur: within individuals, amongst the territorial population at large, and by extension for those who were ‘born and brought up’ – educated – in a given country but subsequently move to live elsewhere. The formal, legal expression of such idealised congruence is, of course, holding national citizenship.
In reality, we know that congruence is socially constructed and sometimes consciously enforced, not least by means of educational policies that specify the cultures, ethnicities and languages for which educational provision does and does not cater. In practice, we know that citizenship is not coterminous with holding a given passport and that the values upheld by the Council of Europe perforce characterise ‘good democratic citizenship’ in terms of respect for cultural diversity. National educational policies have long begun to open up to these issues: most education systems recognise cultural diversity within the societies they serve, many cater specifically for it (in diverse ways and to varying extents) and some have traditionally provided specifically for recognised national minorities. Cultural cooperation programmes can and should deliver stronger support to the educational world, faced as it is with the increasingly pressing challenge of re-creating the balance between identity and diversity in today’s Europe.
Achieving ‘education for all’ in today’s Europe is not only a matter of widening access throughout education and training sectors and levels. It also implies reviewing content and method in order to make learning attractive to the full range of the population, whatever their backgrounds and circumstances. To do so, we need to shift the accent towards a different kind of educational provision and experience, in which active, self-directed, experiential and intercultural learning stand at the centre. This too is no new insight, but rather, in these instrumentally rational times, a rediscovery of the importance of fostering intrinsic engagement with learning as a process of personal development in active interaction with the social and cultural world, a world that inspires the human imagination precisely because of its intrinsic diversity. This is the treasure within of which Jacques Delors and his colleagues so eloquently expressed, and it is this that can incite the joy of learning which too many people living in Europe still miss the opportunity to discover for themselves. At the colloquium, it was astutely remarked that acquiring the joy of learning must no less imply acquiring the capacity to cope with the pain of knowledge. Nowhere is this more acute than in critically reflecting on and learning from Europe’s historical incapacity to hold a peaceful and humanitarian balance between identity and diversity.
Developing the capacity to create and hold that balance in today’s Europe demands the creation of educational contexts – formal, non-formal and informal – which not only invite diversities in on equal terms, but which also foster a critical, agile, engaged, confident and active citizenry with the shared purpose of making the European mosaic a worthwhile and satisfying space for all its diverse elements to live together. Cultural cooperation arguably here offers a space for exploring and negotiating coherence that is more important than ever, enabling ongoing mutual creation of meaning and purpose. The challenge for cultural cooperation in the future is precisely this: in a highly complex and wonderfully diverse world, to ensure that the engagement and inspiration of the European mosaic do not escape our common grasp.
Cultural cooperation: foundations and challenges
- Making it self-evident for all that living productively, joyfully and peacefully together is the foundation for identifying with Europe as an open cultural expression.
- Anchoring cultural cooperation in cultural and educational practices, open to active participation by all and seeking to capitalise on what is known to work.
- Continuing to provide action-oriented cultural cooperation spaces for negotiation between local and cosmopolitan perspectives and priorities, accompanied by more systematic monitoring and evaluation.
- Developing closer forms of critical partnership between educational and cultural policies and programmes in order to work effectively towards shared aims.
- Delivering stronger support to the educational world for re-creating a balance between identity and diversity in today’s Europe.
- Offering cultural cooperation spaces for exploring and negotiating coherence in order to enable ongoing mutual creation of meaning and purpose.