Lourdes Arizpe

There is no translation available.

Culture and Globalization:
Equality of vulnerability and opportunity

In a shrinking planet wired and webbed by the most continuous and interactive cultural contacts in history, people are constantly having to negotiate with others having different values, attitudes and behaviour. This means that the world is one but the many have not yet found their place in it. Our own nature as human beings makes us forever look at the world from a specific place, a specific time. The horizon of our eyes had always been transformed into the boundary of "our world". What happens when we can see beyond our known physical horizon, to the other side of the world? What happens when we can see, in live time, people falling to their death? Or see the houses destroyed when the dust settles down? On the other side of the world.
Could we not aspire, in this new millennium, to extending that horizon to a empathy with no boundaries, an imagination with no barriers, a creativity with no limits? We can aspire to it, certainly, but the more the basic needs of so many poor people are not met, the more resentment grows, the more conflicts fall into the fault lines of cultures and will erupt into wars.
As the report, Crossing the Divide1 states, it is the heightened degree of interdependence in the world that has transformed any " threat" into a "global threat" that knows no boundaries. What the recent tragedies in New York and in Afghanistan have demonstrated is that violence has acquired a new global rank. However, so has the collective will for peace, development and sustainability as witnessed by so many thousands of local social or cultural movements which have this aim in mind. Perhaps never in history has this collective will against violence been so evident and so global in its manifestations. This, I believe, is the movement we must act upon through concerted international programs and actions.
These tragic events of 2001, if anything, demonstrate how important international cooperation in matters related to culture has become on the world stage. No longer will it be considered that questions of cultural identities or religious fundamentalisms are a marginal concern in international geopolitics or in the defense of democracy.
In Latin America in particular, culture, in all its manifestations -artistic, festive, social and intellectual- is rapidly becoming one of the most important areas of interactivity where local demands are represented in the face of overwhelming global trends. As President Henrique Cardoso de Oliveira has remarked: "...la revolución necesaria (para enfrentar los retos de la globalización y la gobernabilidad) -y que ya marcha en varias partes, fragmentaria, confusamente- es una revolución cultural". Certainly, the hope fostered by Porto Alegre in opening new avenues of perception and action in a global world, is one of the signs that local peoples the world over are demanding a change in the course of globalization processes.
The first mind-set we must change is the concept of development. Amartya Sen brings new light into this concept by stating that development is freedom. It is doing away with the unfreedoms that prevent people from pursuing that which they have reasons to value.

Negotiating Cultural Pluralism

Freedom in culture goes hand in hand with respect and appreciation of cultural diversity. As defined in the Declaration on Cultural Diversity proclaimed at the 2001 Unesco General Conference, diversity is "…the source of human capability of developing: we think by associating different images; we identify by contrasting ways of living; we elect by choosing from an array of options; we grow by rebuilding our confidence again and again through dialogue". In this new beginning, to cope with the momentous challenges of sustainability, governance and convivencia in a global era, we need cooperation on a world scale putting into play all the creativity that be summoned from all cultures and civilizations.
As explained in the Unesco Second World Culture Report "it is no longer a matter of globalization allowing cultural diversity to continue to develop, it is cultural diversity as a condition without which globalization cannot continue…".
Diversity must also include all the diverse sectors of societies. Including gender difference but equality of rights of women and men. Civilizations have been built by men and women, each with their respective and complementary contributions. No dialogue among civilizations could take place without the active and inventive participation of women.
As noted by Ruth Cardoso, a distinguished Brazilian anthropologist, cultural studies and social movements -of mobilized peoples of African descent, women and peoples of varied ethnic and social origins contributed greatly to the political evolution of the end of the 20th century 2 . However, she warns of a new threat, that is, "…the construction of identities so strong as to exclude the principle of multiculturalism and the fight against discrimination, restructuring values and patterns of behaviour leading to intolerant fundamentalisms" 3 .
Respect and reciprocity cannot be decided by law or imposed by institutions, although disrespect and hierarchy can be and often are. Minimizing inequality in the social primary goods in Rawls´sense --not just rights and liberties but also powers and opportunities, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect-- is not only the most effective instrument in this regard but can also be institutionalized. Minimizing inequality, not just absolute poverty, empowers the possibility of equal and effective participation and, thereby, of convivencia and genuine cultural pluralism.
Such transactions become impossible if a cultural canon is elevated to the level of a metaphysical condition. Questions of faith, all would agree, cannot be negotiated. If so, groups defining themselves exclusively on the basis of religion, at best, can only negotiate coexistence and tolerance, and at worse, as Mr. Ossama Bin Laden has shown, they will fight to annihilate the Other or themselves.
Democracy, trade and policy-making, on the other hand, imply negotiated conciliation, as do civilized international relations. The only way to achieve this conciliation, as Umberto Eco has forcefully reminded us, is to consider that "all wars of religion that have bloodied the world for centuries have been born out of passionate adherence to simplistic oppositions: We and They, the Good and the Bad, White and Black. If Western culture has shown itself to be creative…it is because it has striven to "dissolve" nefarious simplification with the light of critical spirit and enquiry".
Simplifications of political philosophies do not generally last very long: freedom of expression and open debate lead to adjustment through constructive criticism and negotiation between contending parties.
In a forceful statement, the European Union has declared that "the right to difference and to identity is inseparable from that of the equal dignity of cultures. It is within this perspective that the European Union conceives the dialogue among civilizations. This must be carried out without taboos. We have the right to ask questions to a civilization other than our own and to pose questions to others".

To see how things are

In discussing development, we must go further and question the language itself that we are using because it conditions the way that we "see" others. Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: the Making and Unmaking of the Third World has emphasized that "…Rather than being eliminated by development, many "traditional cultures" survive through their transformative engagement with modernity. It becomes more appropriate to speak of popular culture as a present-oriented process of invention through complex hybridizations that cut across class, ethnic and national boundaries...If we continue to speak of tradition and modernity it is because we continually fall into the trap of not saying anything new because the language does not permit it." 4
Rather than talking of how things should be, many Third World scholars are looking at how things are. Trinh T. Minh-ha speaks about the "transcultural between-world reality" that requires traveling simultaneously backward --into cultural heritage, oneself, one´s social group-- and forward, cutting across social boundaries into progressive elements of other cultural formations .5

Equality of vulnerability

Scientists meeting at the World Science Organization Open Conference on the Challenges of a Changing Earth, in July 2001 in Amsterdam confirmed that global warming will have decisive and diverse impacts on the life of every inhabitant of the planet. Environmental global change thus creates an equality of vulnerability which, in turn, also deepens through increased interdependence in one single world economic system.
In the report Crossing the Divide we put forth that equality in vulnerability heightens the need for a broader, more political dialogue among cultures. Thus, it stimulates dialogue. Because the real answer to equality in vulnerability, leading to equality of opportunity, is the adherence to accepted forms of common behaviour by more and more actors on the international scene. This requires, as stated in the Report, "…an act of decision by each individual member of the international community, no matter how small".
"Perhaps what we are really talking about, the Report goes on to say, is no longer individual enemies for individual countries but a multifaceted enemy for all. The spreading of contagious disease, weapons of mass destruction, unrestricted dissemination of small weapons, poverty, all represent different faces of an "enemy" for the entire human race…If the enemy is common, it follows that fighting against it requires unanimity".

A higher order of civilization

As political philosophies are downplayed by the neoliberal perspective of the waning state, cultural conflicts and ethnic cleansing wars are proliferating. The prophecy of the "Clash of Civilizations" proposed by Samuel Huntington has turned, as several authors have noted, into the "Crash of Civilizations". Cultural conflicts will be endless in a world where ethnic ideologies are substituting political ideologies as instruments in conflicts of power.
To prevent greater proliferation of such conflicts, a new global framework is needed that will take time to build from the myriad initiatives of different peoples in today´s world. A first step, it seems, is the need to recognize a higher order of civilization, one in scale with the effects that globalization is bringing to the world . A higher order of civilization created and nurtured by the combination of many, many cultural strands of philosophical and theological thinking throughout human history. As eloquently expressed by Mr. Abldelaziz Belkhadem, Foreign Minister of Algeria "…No one can doubt that we are witnessing the more and more extensive formation of a civilization of the universal which is the result and the fruit of the endowments and contributions of different human civilizations since the night of time". This world civilization must be based on the Kantian principle that every individual must treat others as he or she desires to be treated, that is with respect, dignity, empathy and tolerance.
It must be built through the "global ethics" proposed by the United Nations World Commission on Culture and Development in Our Creative Diversity, based on human rights, democracy, gender equity and sustainability.

A new collective will

We are witnessing the conscious building of a new constellation of political will around the world. It is coming from local communities, from reconstructed cultural communities, from those conscious of the need to build a global civil society and from political constituencies that consider development, democracy and sustainability as inseparable.
Altogether, a different concept of the role of the United Nations is needed. As proposed in Crossing the Divide: "To those who say that the United Nations is nothing more than the sum of its members, we beg to differ. Within the framework of the United Nations, we would like to submit that an international social contract is being consummated….For the need for such a contract will become more and more self-evident, as power alone will not deliver peace any longer".
Local cultural actions I believe will give the substance that will be linked through interactivity into a global cultural web. It is this global cultural web that will give meaning and purpose to our continuing human prevalence on this Earth.



1. The General Assembly of the United Nations declared the year 2000 as the Year of the Dialogue among Civilizations with Unesco having responsibility for organizing its activities. A "Group of Eminent Persons for the Dialogue among Civilizations" -among them Kamal Aboulmagd, Lourdes Arizpe, Ruth Cardoso, Jacques Delors, Hans Kung, Nadime Gordimer, and Javad Sharif- were asked to write a report, Crossing the Divide: the Dialogue of Civilizations, presented to the General Assembly of the U.N. on November 8, 2001.

2.Cardoso, Ruth. 2001. Speech at the United Nations Assembly. November 8, 2001:


4. Escobar, Arturo. 1995. Encountering Development:the making and unmaking of the Third World. New Jersey: Princeton University Press:219.



Lourdes Arizpe is Professor of Anthropology at the Universidad Nacional AutÛnoma de MÈxico, and former Assistant Director-General for Culture at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). She is currently a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at New York University's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center. Her visit has been organized under the auspices of the Andres Bello Chair in Latin American Cultures and Civilizations. The Andres Bello Chair was established at the King Juan Carlos Center thanks to the generosity of the CITGO Petroleum Corporation, the US affiliate of PetrÛleos de Venezuela. The Chair enables the Center to bring eminent figures to campus for research, teaching, and participation in public programs.