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Baidyanath Saraswati

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 Development.

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.

Conceptualizing Culture

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 development.

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 subjective intention.

The authors of these essays have considered the various conceptions of culture at different levels of diversity. Their cultural backgrounds should have important consequences.

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.

Conceptions of culture are valid in the contexts where they were originally conceived. There is no justification in extrapolating them. The ‘modern’ conception is taken as an incontestable given; it claims to stand for a ‘reality’ culture which presents itself in everyday life. The ‘ancient’ conception is re-introduced from outside; it allows itself to be discovered by others and shows itself as something unique. Since the old conception is not lived from the inside, the reconstructed elements hardly have a pattern of intelligibility. Believing that the old is ‘unreal’ in the contemporary perspective, experts and researchers insist on stitching the ancient and the modern together as something wholly new. Holism is fashionable; it is neither stable not consistent in itself. To aggregate the elements of cultural conceptions is to compromise with error.

Planning Cultural Policies

The conception of culture is made more explicit by showing the relationship between ordered human activities and the defined areas of social life. Culture has to find a balance when the great turning comes; it makes changes that are within its reach. But the real challenge comes from the ever-increasing interference from outside. A normal culture is concerned with its identity: being-in-its-body as its being-in-the world. Hence it adopts a set of cultural policies to strengthen its foundations and save its real identity.

Unesco has listed the following points to be emphasized in cultural policies: cultural identity; cultural dimension of development; cultural heritage; artistic and intellectual creation and art education; relationship of culture with education, science and communication, planning, administration and cooperation (the 1982 Mexico Conference).

The principles identified by the Mexico Conference are, for obvious reasons, addressed to its member states. While the spirit of the recommendations illuminates all nations, the governmental responses to the various components of cultural policies are unequal.

India’s national cultural policy is still in a formative stage. To consider a practical policy for multicaste, multilingual, multireligious India is not an easy task. Rapid and drastic changes have led to homogenisation of life-styles, decay of multiple models of cultured expression, loss of community, erosion of individuality, and an increasing gulf between creative artists and thinkers and the rest. The thoughts of Ananda Coomaraswamy and Mahatma Gandhi, to which Ram Bapat has drawn us, ‘should provide practical guidelines for linking cultural heritage with strategies for sustainable development’. But will India as a nation ever enter into the labyrinth of Gandhi’s vision of self-government? Can a nation of traditional cultures compromise with a policy of maximum consumerism and minimum spiritualism?

In some cases, such as Thailand, where government agencies are directly involved in cultural promotion activities, as Raksastaya writes, ways have been found to valorize the new experience and to promote ‘loyalty to the key institutions (the country, religions and the monarch), family and communal life, national and local tradition, language, discipline and values, virtues and ethics, way of life and folk wisdom, way of dressing, arts, tourism, and cultural development along with economic development’. An evolutionary sequence of cultural development, beginning from the natural state and going to the nation-state, is offered to demonstrate the forward march of the Thai nation.

Considering the kairos of culture, one cannot help saying that the modern nations engaged in the progress of high technology, industry, urbanization, socialization and intercommunication of all sorts of information, march behind the progress of humanity. The example of Japan is an eye-opener. As is pointed out by Kasai, in pre-war Japan development began under traditional auspices. It was possible and effective because of a deep respect for tradition among the Japanese. But, in connection with militaristic nationalism, tradition was exploited with the motive of building a nation-state. Subordination, manipulation and exploitation of tradition by excessive nationalism led to policies oppressive within and expensive without and to the tragic ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Placing the nation above and beyond culture is a fatal mistake. Culture as a human invariant presupposes interdependence and mutual dependence among all forms of human life across the narrow boundaries of nations. There is even more: When cultural policies are governed by national policies, a downward spiral in the quality of culture follows. Cultures, or cultural communities, lose not only their freedom but also their ability for self-development.

Challenging Development’s Infallibility

‘Development’ is a crucial expression of the New Age. For some it is the embodiment of economic progress, modernity, industrialization and science. For others, it evokes an esoteric or even bizarre perception of the contemporary world divided today into ‘developed’, ‘underdeveloped’, and ‘developing’ countries. The index of development is determined by growth in national production. But, as the truth reveals itself, in terms of human development those who are economically developed are culturally underdeveloped and those who are economically poor are culturally rich.

Unesco defines development as a complex, holistic and mutidimensional process, which goes beyond mere economic growth and integrates all the dimensions of life and all the energies of a community, all of whose members must share in the economic and social transformation effort and in the benefits that result therefrom. The principle is therefore proposed that development must be founded on the will of each society and express its profound identity (1982 Mexico Conference).

The ground reality is different. The development ideology announces itself and proclaims infallibility. Saraswati demands the exercise of critical thinking in which ‘development appears more or less a separate construct governed by its own laws; it is a new culture, a new spirituality, a new path to salvation. The infallibility of development comes from technological advance taking a certain direction in which we acquire superior power of disorder over order’. But surprisingly, and not so surprisingly, the dilemma of development is denied.

This does not mean that people are unaware of the problem. Their harrowing experiences have been exemplified by several authors. P.K. Misra, for instance, points out that the problems posed by ageing in India have grown as a result of the development process itself. Sachchidananda draws our attention to the development experience among the tribal communities in India: ‘In certain cases tribals have been hurt rather than helped on account of the development effort. In more cases it resulted in development for the few and destitution for the many. The experience of the pains of development is very poignant’. Ashish Bose’s case studies of socio-cultural pitfalls in development planning show that there is considerable cultural illiteracy among policy-makers, planners, administrators and experts (Indian as well as foreign), which comes in the way of the success of many development projects launched with good intentions.

Briefly, the Asian experience of development is by and large barren and alienating. As Kadai describes it, ‘Both the success and the failure of development raise a fundamental question about the meaning of life. This question is not confined to the Japanese but is a universal problem, because the success or failure of development have given man the power to destroy all life on earth. American native people (red people), are a tragic reminder of the violence of development. Today, success ideology of development cannot be accepted uncritically unless one is totally uprooted.’

Here we need only stress that faced with the modern development process, the ‘democracy of the haves’, or ‘inner colonialism’, or ‘bureaucratic tradition’, has created everywhere two nations: that of the minority haves and that of the majority have-nots. Further, the tendency of limiting development to the techno-economic field has reduced mankind to the status of a disposable commercial unit.

Considering the Cultural Dimension

The question of cultural dimension is a rather difficult one, but it is necessary to consider it if we are to open the door of emancipation from many of the problems of development.

According to Unesco, the cultural dimension of development embraces all the psychosociological components which, like the economic, technological and scientific factors, help to improve the material and intellectual life of the populations without introducing any violent change into their way of life or modes of thought, and at the same time contribute to the technical success of the development plans or projects. (The Cultural Dimension of Development, Unesco 1995).

There is a difference between a purely epistemological approach that defines culture in terms of the vertical dimension and a practical approach that seeks possibilities around the horizontal plane. Culture may respond to both situations differently, depending on the perception of development and the preferred world shaped by its own imagination. Some cultures may consider both the vertical and the horizontal dimensions; others may lay emphasis largely on the horizontal plane.

The distinctive nature of the vertical dimension of culture is considered by several authors. Keshav Malik, for instance, points out the unique nature of human organization: ‘men without organizational power but only with the power of their spirit, heart or mind chart the longer path’. S.C. Malik highlights the significance of the mythic domain of culture by which ‘humankind itself is animated and acts as a link between the inner dimension of spirit and the outer world of form’. Kasai considers the ‘sacred reality as culture’. R.P. Misra emphasizes the ‘reverence for all that exists in nature’. Saraswati refers to the aborigines’ dreamtime culture, which has a ‘spiritual understanding of nature’.

The horizontal dimension breeds the supremacy of the man of matter. The anthropic principle claims that the universe of man has no other structure than its own, and that culture is an unfolding within the human order of space and time. This seems to be the central concern but not the central experience of the authors of these essays.

The theme of development is treated at the local, national and international levels. Tan Chung provides a comprehensive survey of the socio-economic development of China in the light of civilizational dynamics. He holds the view that ‘by attempting an endogenous development, China, or any nation, can’t get away from exogenous influences — be they exopathetic diseases or exophilic blessings. Yet, it is in the context of globalization that there is the need to emphasise endogenous development.’ Sang-Bok Han presents a Korean example of the integration of endogenous cultural dimension in socio-economic development, which "may be regarded, on the one hand, as a consequence of the combination of certain traditional cultural values, modern science and technology, and on the other as a consequence of the combination of non-rationality and rationality in terms of Western usage". R.P. Misra is of the view that if there is a possibility of a synthesis of the Western and the Indian paradigms of development, we must work for it and endeavour to operationalize it. Gandhi tried to do this in his own lifetime.

Meutia Swasono refers to the case of the indigenous population of Indonesia, consisting of various ethnic groups leading a variety of life-styles. Considering the fact that these ‘local cultures’ constitute development potential, she points out that ‘neglecting these non-economic factors may cause development to become more expensive, socio-culturally ineffective, economically inefficient and wasteful’. Highlighting the importance of the local religion of Indonesia, Boedhihartono questions the credibility of the categorical terms ‘indigenous’, ‘backward’ and ‘primitive’, which are ‘based more on the technological or civilizational level classification, though many of them are more generous, pacific and probably more honest, from the moral point of view better shaped and nurtured’. Based on realities in Vietnam, Ngo duc Thinh looks for a close relationship between ‘local knowledge’ and social development. In his opinion, ‘to a modern society the local knowledge does not lose any of its scientific and practical value’.

Truly speaking, the authors of these essays do not give a prescription for development. What they discuss here is the state of culture in the context of development planning especially in the Asian nations. The purpose is not to condemn development efforts but to find a way towards integrating the cultural dimension into development.

Building Cultural Models

We are concretely aware that the method of development based on the experience of the industrialized world has not brought about either peace and harmony or alleviation of poverty. Nor has it ensured socio-economic equality or fostered value systems conducive to normal aspects of life. There is a need to challenge the ever-growing dominance of technocentric development. There is a need to redefine development in terms of culture, and not the other way round. There is a need to make man and man, and man and nature, live in relative harmony. There is a need to work towards a new way of thinking and acting. There is a need to move from the culture of consumerism to the culture of humanism. There is a need to build new cultural models which can tolerate the diversities of unity rather than enforce the unity of diversities.

We are convinced that the trend of globalization is threatening, its political consequences are far-reaching. A global network of communication means a global mode of thinking and acting, focusing on monoculture, monolanguage, and a common mind-set. Global commerce means a global consumer culture. A global consumer culture means sterile uniformity. A global village means the empire of a new elite — marketing and advertising people — dominating the future of mankind. The authors of these essays have different ways of describing this.

According to Bapat, ‘globalization as it operates today is bound to threaten the plurality and diversity of all cultures’. Tan Chung identifies a trend in globalization that shows ‘the hegemonic behaviour of certain great powers to monopolize the world market, to dominate the world development trends, to impose their own value judgements on the weaker nations’. He cites an obvious example of this: ‘Both the Chinese and the Indian peasants share the worry that globalization would ultimately mean their marginalization from the mainstream of the country’s development.’ Saraswati also writes about this uneasy feeling of ‘human cultures situated today in a technocentric framework of global interdependence created by a new kind of state system with multinational organizations’ having market interest. Expressing dissatisfaction over the ugly and unjust state-centric development with global objectives, he pleads for swaraj (self rule) in development, as perceived by Gandhi: ‘Swaraj is complete independence of alien control and complete economic independence. It has two other ends. One of them is truth, the other is non-violence.’ Making the setting of the problem explicit, he adds: ‘If we aspire to swaraj in development, we must strive for swadesi (indigenous) development. If we aspire to a global village, we must set our house in order.’

Human hope confronts development. Experiments are made to offer an alternative to the Western model of development. P.D. Premasiri presents a case of the Sri Lankan experiment with the Sarvodaya model, based on Gandhi’s philosophy of sarvodaya (upliftment of all). The hopes and the claims of the sarvodaya movement, inspired and led by A.T. Ariyaratne, are that ‘it offers an alternative development model which is rooted in Sri Lankan culture and has a universal moral appeal. But as he admits regretfully, the day when such a philosophy and programme of development will win wide acceptance in Sri Lanka, to the extent of moving political forces to adopt it through constraints imposed by popular will and making a real impact at the national level, does not appear to be near’.

Sachchidananda introduces an experiment in alternative development carried out among the Santal, the largest tribe of eastern India. Giving the background of tribals coming under the sway of large industrial, mining and irrigation projects, he examines at length the activities of the Badalo Foundation. The success story of this non-governmental voluntary organization ‘has shown ways in which the tribals in this area and other people can help themselves’.

Another success story is told by Sanjit (Bunker) Roy, who has dedicated his life to the cause of development through rural education in Rajasthan. Based on more than two decades of experiment, he presents a simple model called the Barefoot College, which "respects anyone who is prepared to work with his\her hands; anyone who is prepared to learn; anyone who is prepared to share skills and knowledge and treats others as equals; anyone who has no hang-ups, ego-problems and anyone who does not hide behind his\her degree to cover up incompetence, insecurity, and has the courage to say: I do not know and I am willing to learn". It is claimed that this model can be replicated wherever there are people from the rural areas.

Making a virtue of globalization and high-tech development, these simple isolated experiments may appear small and insignificant. But their success stories might well suggest the very symbiosis needed in our time.

As new experiments are introduced, an opportunity to build cultural models arises. Cultural models are not theoretical models; they operate in real life. In this context S.C. Malik raises several critical questions, claiming that cultural models provide a resource for making sense of experience; and that ‘the notion of a cultural model is a way of describing knowledge that cannot in and of itself account for how this knowledge is used, even though it is produced from repeated experience’. Keshav Malik cautions that ‘the emphasis in any model for human development, even when it tries to highlight material or institutional factors and frameworks, must not overlook or underestimate the fateful role of ideas and beliefs, that is, of reason as well as of unreason in the destiny of humanity’.

From the essays presented here what comes out clearly is a ‘cultural information model’ for Asia. By this we mean the codex, or the inventory, of fundamental themes and elements of culture forming, freezing and fostering human life in a particular social group. This model contains information regarding:

(a) process and extent of integration of endogenous insights, knowledge and techniques with exogenous modern science and technology, and the indigenous response to self-organizing and low-cost innovations such as biogas, solar energy, etc.;

(b) local knowledge of nature and the environment, of agriculture and other subsistence mechanisms, of health and healing practices, of social perception and population management, of rules, ranks and gender issues;

(c) textual and oral traditions, verbal and non-verbal modes of communication, linkage of formal (modern) and informal (traditional) systems of education, language and literature, and the role of religion in the integration of community life;

(d) nature and extent of decentralization of development planning and administration, contribution by people at the grassroots, NGOs, pressure groups, local or regional and trans-regional development agencies;

(e) people’s sacred world-views, myths, rituals, and artistic manifestations;

(f) endogenous conceptions of the good life, truth, non-violence, freedom, equality, peace, and poverty preached by great religions and practised by such luminaries as Confucius, Buddha, Zen masters, Natsume, Gandhi, Vinoba and others who saw visionary schemes of human development; and

(g) people’s experience of social and economic development under various political systems.

Finally, viewed in the light of the Asian experience, it must be said that the future of humanity will be determined not by turning the world into a technocentric global village of markets with fire-arms and industry, but by rebuilding a culture and faith in which the cosmic, divine, and human dimensions are suitably integrated.


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