Mar 25, 2010

Slow Cloth!


I just learned of the work of Elaine Marie Lipson. Her blog and facebook group are inspiring and important sites for exploring the intersections of culture, sustainability, textiles, and community. I am really struck by her ten principles of slow cloth. So encouraging to see that so many people in so many different places and ways are interested in these kinds of things and doing great things!

Mar 24, 2010



A brilliant book/slideshow/chorus/glossary/meditation on the subject of Thrivability curated, collected and inspired by Jean Russell. Jean is an extraordinary person and an inspiration to me and many many others….

Mar 19, 2010

The broken society


I find myself surprised that I am posting a column by David Brooks here,  but I am really interested in his account of the views of British writer Phillip Blond:

Essentially, Blond would take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations.

Despite their efforts to move beyond the logics of neo-liberal modernity, their commitments against government seem like little more than an attempt to valorize free markets. What they may be missing is the truth that the deeper associations of the social, the deeper exchanges of culture resist reduction to the market. They have a life of their own, and deserve the care and attention made most appropriately possible (until we develop or recover alternative modes of exchanging and measuring value than the market) through the public realm.

Mar 19, 2010

Community Resilience: A Cross-Cultural Study: Revitalizing Community Within and Across Boundaries


There are interesting resonances in community resilience and  cultural sustainability.  Resilience is engendered by cultural gifts, and culture is sustained through resilient people. Lots of good stuff in this publication.

In December, 2008, the Comparative Urban Studies Project (CUSP) of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and The Fetzer Institute of Kalamazoo, Michigan, held an invitational seminar examining community resilience. Twenty-three scholars and practitioners gathered at the Wilson Center in Washington DC from eleven countries; representative of South America, North America, Africa, Indo-Southern Asia, and Russia.

At this gathering, community activists who have devoted their lives to organizing slum dwellers and other poor communities exchanged insights and lessons learned with academics and practitioners. The goal of the meeting was to encourage cutting edge conversations that add to the working knowledge of community resilience, raising critical questions and identifying areas for further research and exploration.

This publication reflects a “conversation”– a brief exploration of the major themes that were shared through this remarkable process and gathering. Reflections from the group of scholars and practitioners are shared, as well as essays from Blair Ruble, John Paul Lederach, and Jill Simone Gross, all addressing the following questions:

How do different cultures around the world describe and define successful, healthy communities?
How can local communities promote urban inclusion and reconciliation?
What is the role of the individual in community transformation and community in individual transformation? How do they inform each other?
In what situations is resilience transformative and in what situations is resilience “a bouncing back” to an untenable life?
How can successful examples of community resilience inform global consciousness away from fear and violence?
How can governance structures and policies to promote democratic civic culture create a common sense of belonging and foster community resilience in an increasingly globalized world?
What key elements need to be present for community betterment to take place?

Mar 19, 2010

SXSW 2010: Valerie Casey Keynote


How can we change the narrative? What would happen if your purpose was oriented toward cultural sustainability instead of commerce?


SXSW is a huge convention of tech innovators. Valerie Casey was  named a “Guru” of the year by Fortune magazine, a “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine, and a “Master of Design” by Fast Company. She was also selected as one of the “World’s Most Influential Designers” by BusinessWeek.

Mar 19, 2010

Culture in Peril


I want to share a thoughtful blog by a grad student at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, Nicholas Merkelson. The blog, Culture in Peril, posted about Goucher’s program. What it is about:

This blog serves as your source of the most up-to-date information and news about humankind’s shared cultural heritage. Culture in Peril will point followers towards the latest reports of heritage issues in the world today and provide insight into why and how these issues are–and must be–a concern to every individual.

Irrespective of age, gender, race, religion, or beliefs, human beings are linked by a common heritage and cultural legacy. The aim of Culture in Peril is thus to explain why damage to and destruction of cultural property (both tangible and intangible) affects us all. It is an underlying premise of Culture in Peril that the loss of this shared heritage is, ultimately, a serious hindrance to the mutual understanding and acceptance of world cultures.

Mar 13, 2010

Imagining Equity: Innovating on Traditional Spaces in Media


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]. 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…


Mar 8, 2010

An amazing film about the challenges of cultural sustainability


This comes from the remarkable organization Survival International .

Mar 4, 2010

Farmer’s Market grants


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:


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Goucher's MA in Cultural Sustainability provides students with the training to identify, protect, enhance and work effectively with communities around what makes them unique: their traditions, ways of life, cherished spaces, and vital relationships to each other and the world. Read More

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