Cultural Agents

Cultural Agents

Chair: Doris Sommer


"Culture is agency; it enables creative responses to social constraints. When Humanists observe the creativity of artist/activists, of administrators, or teachers, we can investigate the effects and consider possible developments. These constructive reflections are contributions to civil society that go beyond the standard critiques of injustice or assymetry that have characterized cultural studies. Cultural Agents promote change by highlighting and exploring the many ways in which cultural practices affect our societies. Democracy is understood as exercise in collective creativity that demands a certain predisposition towards the "arts" of harmonizing the differences between law, culture and morality. This understanding obliges us to develop rights and resources through innovations that can transform limitations into the very source of creativity.
Exemplary cultural agents such as Augusto Boal and Antanas Mockus serve as models and inspiration, as do many artist/activists whom we might identify in each of our areas of study. Mockus’s innovative work as mayor of Bogotá revitalized a civic spirit among citizens of the then troubled city and reduced its homicide rate by 60%. Augusto Boal, founder of the “Theater of the Oppressed” involved citizens in the performance of legislative theater and has already generated 13 city ordenances in Rio de Janeiro. By identifying and encouraging a variety of mechanisms and effects produced when art and reflective thought intervene in civic life, the Cultural Agents Initiative considers the relationship between democracy, creativity, and education in order to increase our expectations of culture’s contributions and thereby to afford opportunities for Humanists to enhance to civic life.


Professor of Latin American Literature at Harvard University and Director of the Cultural Agents Initiative, to promote social contributions through arts and academic reflection.