In my last installment of this blog, I spoke of New Zealand as a “small but important” Pacific country. I had a couple of aspects of that country in mind: the fact that New Zealand is an important destination for Pacific peoples in an era when climate change is disrupting and marginalizing regional cultures, and also because New Zealand is the site of what can be seen as a profound example of cultural recovery as witnessed in what many observers see as an inspiring reemergence and revitalization of Maori language and culture. In this entry (and on my way to returning to my original topic of “Imagining Equity”) I’d like to talk about one extraordinary initiative that contributed to this shining beacon of cultural sustainability.
In 1952, various political and cultural visionaries instituted a publication, “Te Ao Hou” (“The New World”) [see http://teaohou.natlib.govt.nz/journals/teaohou/index.html]. This new magazine was to be a “marae on paper.” Literally the marae is the courtyard in the middle of a Maori village, but figuratively it is the center of culture — the “meeting place,” but even more importantly, it is the sacred place where local Maori culture is practiced, implemented, learnt and passed on.
Metaphorically recreating this sacred space in the highly visible and accessible realm of print publication was a brilliant innovation on traditional culture, and an excellent example of what I call “cultural documentation as an instrument of sustainability.” Te Ao Hou was a precursor to contemporary language recovery (Kohanga Reo, etc.) and Maori education models (Kura Kaupapa Maori), and paved the way for a host of powerful cultural movements, aimed not only at cultural preservation, but also culture sustenance and health.
The genesis of Te Ao Hou also provides us a model, a terminology, and the beginning of a method for framing and implementing our aspirations — a language to facilitate our imaginings.
The first editor of Te Ao Hou was an anthropologist named Eric Schwimmer. In subsequent years, Schwimmer (who is Quebecois) has gone on to theorize various notions of diversity and cultural “health” that are germane to our discussion of cultural sustainability, and he has coined a useful term, “anthropotechniques,” for our efforts.
In a 2003 article, “National Minorities: Will, Desire and Optimal Homeostasis: a Reflection on Biculturalism in New Zealand, Spain, Quebec and Elsewhere” (Anthropologie et Société 27, no. 3 (2003): 155-84), Schwimmer proposes a model of “optimal homeostasis” in which the interests of the nation-state are balanced, or merged with the interests of what he calls “national minorities” and localities. This ongoing process takes place in the ethnographic present. [This article is only available in French — excerpts that follow here are my translation].
He explores “bi-culturalism” as practiced in New Zealand, Spain and Canada and the development of intermediary structures that enable dialogue between factions in contestation for resources, recognition, legitimation, etc. His approach can be seen as a kind of a de-centering of the core in a core-periphery binary.
As I see it, the most salient feature of Schwimmer’s analysis for developing our notion of “cultural sustainability” is that his model and the anthropotechniques that he proposes neatly frame some of the tasks at hand — we desire to reconcile diverse identities in a way that enables peoples within a bounded political area (the nation-state) to aspire to a common national identity and, at the same time, retain their separate, intermediate identities and allegiances as national and local minorities — their “ethnicity,” as it were.
Schwimmer’s approach merges with ours because he acknowledges and emphasizes the agency, the mana (in Maori, “pride,” “self respect,” “stature,” “status,” that “certain something,” etc. — see Mauss, etc.) of ethnic groups by speaking of them as “nations” or “national minorities.” He locates them globally and demonstrates the significance of their active global performance — cultural “value” on a global scale — as a factor in their local/national negotiations: “The position occupied by the dominated nation, even within the nation-state, will be determined by its prestige in the global scheme. Its historic [traditional] values — mobilised, transformed, decolonised — will be appear in each effective advance…” (Schwimmer 2003: 156).
As a practical matter, negotiated coexistence between cultural and political factions is a desirable solution to resolution of differences. However negotiation and legislation are not enough if the various parties are not on a convergent path — “…it remains difficult to establish an ‘optimal homeostasis’ between populations where there are major (cultural, historic, linguistic, ideologic) differences” (ibid.). So one of the aims of our endeavor is to seek convergent understandings and to build shared symbol sets.
There are also useful ideas here for reconciling tension between grassroots movements and policy oriented approaches. For Schwimmer, “complicity” — i.e., shared ends and overlapping agendas — connotes partnership in a mutually beneficial convergence of fundamental values between the dominant culture, (represented by the state), and those on the “periphery.” The structural elements of identity formations — the imposition of categories via laws and geopolitical boundaries matter, but they will not function effectively without the cooperation of people, “For despite legislative instruments, such a system will not function well if there is not a convergence of fundamental values among its members. This convergence isn’t given but can be developed gradually if the State succeeds in creating community institutions, perceived by the peripheral nations as favorable to coexistence. In the contrary case, despite all negotiations, the peripheries will find themselves increasingly uncomfortable within their dominant Sates” (ibid.: 157).
What emerges is the sense that negotiated coexistence (and “optimal homeostasis”) requires a coming together that, if successful, results in the construction of a new, joint identity — a national identity — which would allow for a “plurality of modes of belonging” (ibid.). Such a national identity accommodates people with different attitudes and cultural orientations to be comfortable — it allows them to wear (and to celebrate) their various individual and corporate identities without excessive conflict, fracture or disjuncture.
So, for my original concern with documentation, and particularly film, as an instrument of cultural sustainability, the construction of this “plurality of modes” in the “group mind” begins with the Imagining of Equity in public discourse. An important part of this “imagining,” is an embodied motion — from the realm of the unspoken to the adjacent domain of the performed — witnessed, experienced, and presented in the documentary form. Of course we now have a whole range of challenging new media opportunities for us to build “space” for traditional “places.”
In my next entry, I will return to some of the more colorful aspects of my New Zealand experience…
This comes from the remarkable organization Survival International .
USDA published a notice of $5 million in grant funds available through the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) in today’s March 1 edition of the Federal Register. NSAC and the Wallace Center developed this program and NSAC championed it in the 2002 Farm Bill.
For more information, go here: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/farmers-market-grant-opportunity-announced/
Come to our information session on Saturday, March 13, from 2-4 p.m. in Buchner Hall in the Alumnae/i House on campus. Meet faculty and program staff, speak with other prospective students, and get a feeling for our campus.
We hope you will join us for an informal and fun gathering to meet the faculty and staff of Goucher’s Masters in Cultural Sustainability program!
WHEN: March 13, 2010, from 2 – 4 p.m.
WHAT: Information session for the Masters’ in Cultural Sustainability – light snacks and beverages (and great conversation!)
WHERE: Buchner Hall in the Alumnae/i House on the campus of Goucher College in Towson, MD
Click here for directions to Goucher.
Click here for a campus map.
Alumnae/i House is 1 on the campus map. Parking is available on the main campus parking lot (V – visitor parking). Take the second left past the gatehouse (7 on the campus map).
RSVP now to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-697-4646 to let us know you’re coming.
We look forward to seeing you on the 13th!
Some of you may well be interested in this post on The Green Economy Post:
Culture and Local Governance / Culture et Gouvernance Locale is now accepting manuscript submissions for its ‘Culture and Sustainable Communities’ special issue to be published in September 2010. Papers are invited across a broad range of theory and practice of cultural sustainability planning within the municipal context. Potential themes include, but are not limited to, case studies of municipalities that incorporate culture within sustainability planning, new strategic approaches and frameworks of incorporating culture within sustainability initiatives, theoretical examinations and adaptation of cultural considerations within the sustainability paradigm, and the interplay between diversity and sustainability in municipal cultural plans.
The submission deadline for this special issue is May 1, 2010.
Interesting job announcement:
Assistant Programme Specialist
Intangible Cultural Heritage Section, Division of Cultural Objects and
Intangible Heritage, Culture Sector
3 April 2010
Under the authority of the Chief of Section of Intangible Cultural
Heritage and the supervision of the Chief of the Evaluation Unit, the
incumbent will assist in the coordination, development, management and
evaluation of activities and projects related to intangible cultural
heritage (“ICH”), in particular in the framework of the implementation
of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural
I hope Jeff Gillenwater will forgive me for quoting a snippet from his groundwork paper from his Intro to Cultural Sustainability course:
The neighborhood’s tradition is not defined by the use of specific time appropriate tool sets or materials but by the creative, skillful use of tools and materials within the context of contemporary circumstance, whether that use occurred 150 years ago or yesterday.
This is a pretty brilliant thing to say, I think.
Anthony McCann has been and continues to be an inspiration and an influence in my thinking and practice. I haven’t checked out his stuff recently, but was delighted to look at his website Crafting Gentleness. An excerpt from the first page follows, and a whole lot of useful and thought provoking reading awaits if you check it out further!
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we matter, hard to believe that we can do anything about the horrible things that go on in this world, hard to believe that we make a difference.
The crafting gentleness website invites you to consider the practice of gentleness as a possible and powerful politics in your life. Through this website you are invited to consider that you do matter, that you always-already make a difference. Every moment of your life you move within a sea of influences, changes, and consequences. Every moment of your life you make a difference. What’s important is to helpfully understand how.
Imagining Equity: Cultural Documentation, Independent Film, and Cultural Sustainability — Introduction
I’m writing in the San Francisco International airport, bleary eyed after 17 hours in transit from Auckland. My brain is bubbling as I reflect on my last four weeks in Aotearoa New Zealand (Aotearoa, usually translated as “land of the long white cloud,” is the Maori name for New Zealand) where the quest for Cultural Sustainability is palpable in and among various groups, particularly Maori and other indigenous and displaced peoples, and also for the descendants of the Pacific’s British colonists, all of whom are attempting to defend, establish, or discover their “place” in the cultural olio of this small, but important Pacific country.
After more than 20 years of doing cultural documentation as a “contract ethnographer,” I am currently entering a new phase of my career. My new thing has to do with moving beyond contracts — with a client, a well-defined set of objectives, a good sense of the resources available to me, and a relatively certain financial outcome, all clearly set out in a scope of work — to the shakier ground of making full-length documentaries as an independent filmmaker/producer.
One aspect of my move into this indeterminate and open-ended (read “money sink”) ground is that I am constructing my personal and project goals in a larger arena. When I ask myself what I am “really” trying to accomplish, the answers are not easy to pin down, but they revolve around ideas of promoting diversity and cultural sustainability, and formulating and expressing (i.e., “publishing”) a positive vision of cultures in balance — I am “imagining cultural equity.”
As a documentarian, I work to accomplish this goal by positively framing my subject matter according to the affective engagement of people with their emic sense of “owned” culture/cultures — I focus on the depth of their feeling for whatever it is that “belongs” to them, and to which they belong in turn. Based on ethnographic (and often self-ethnographic) personal, intracultural renderings, I look to construct a larger, intercultural landscape where a myriad of diverse cultural performances are dynamically displayed on a quasi-ethnological field. This field constitutes a new “world” of sorts. And in this imagined world, “visibility” is based on depth of feeling and engagement, as opposed to brute force or institutional power.
So I’d like to talk a little about some of my recent experiences in New Zealand. One of the objectives of this trip was to begin work on a film that I have been planning for some time. I am exploring the cultural landscape of Aotearoa in order to highlight and construct notions of “New Zealand music” and cultural performance framed on the basis of how New Zealand people feel — about what belongs to them, where they feel the greatest attachment and where they make the greatest (affective) investment of themselves. So I am seeking to film people as they engage in various aspects of cultural performances that are closely associated with the place — performances that “belong” in the broadest and most nuanced sense.
On this trip I filmed a group of transplanted Cook Island musicians “jamming” in a field behind their homes, a Tongan brass band traveling house-to-house and playing impromptu concerts in a post-Christmas tradition, Keneti Muaiava, a New Zealand-born Samoan master dancer, as he rehearsed a group of young men developing new expressions of traditional dances, and Bernard Makoare, a kaiwhakaairo (traditional carver) who is deeply involved in cultural recovery, rediscovery and protection of maoritanga (“things Maori”) and particularly the cultural heritage of his tribe, Ngati Whatua.
Each of these performances constitutes “local culture” in that they all have an immediate focus — they are primarily situated in relation to local groups or communities. A question is how do these locally embedded purveyors of culture interact across borders and how do they contribute to more globally imagined ideas of culture and heritage?
The question for me then is, “How do I imagine equity into the equation?” As an ethnographer and a filmmaker, it seems to me somehow that in the motion from local to global or perhaps in the interstices between vernacular culture and “fine art,” or maybe in movement from the village to the city (or the university), that cultural inequities creep in.
In future installments of this blog, I will elaborate on some of these performances, particularly as they relate to more macroscopic constructions and narratives of larger “national” (and global) identities. I will talk about some of the participants in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s cultural mix and their histories, a subject that I’ve explored over a period of many years. I will also compare my experiences in New Zealand with analogous encounters and work that I’ve done in the United States and elsewhere. In the process I hope to show some different perspectives on Cultural Sustainability and what it means in practice.
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Goucher's Master of Arts in Cultural Sustainability is a completely unique new program. We teach our students how to work closely with individuals and communities to identify, protect, and enhance their important traditions, their ways of life, their cherished spaces, and their vital relationships to each other and the world.