Dynamics of Communication and Cultural Change Main Findings and Conclusions

The First World Culturelink Conference on ‘Dynamics of Communication and Cultural Change: The Role of Networks’, held in Zagreb, 8-11 June 1995, was attended by 85 participants from 33 countries and 14 international centres and organizations. It worked in four plenary sessions and one special session devoted to the Culturelink Network.

Cultural change and new cultural identities were discussed during the first plenary session. The issue was introduced in an overview of the relations between culture and development. The growing knowledge on the role of culture in development and its importance for the practical implementation of development projects was pointed out, as well as the ways in which this relationship is treated by international organizations, particularly Unesco. The less well-established issue in international organizations, but equally important, concerns cultural transformation in the post-socialist societies of eastern and central Europe. The transformation processes, as well as development, have brought to the fore the problem of cultural identities and the establishment of new identities through the interaction of past values and present existential difficulties of cultures affected by transformation. While cultural development is linked with the process of post-colonial liberation and reculturation based on the rejection of foreign cultural values, the cultural transformation currently underway in central and eastern Europe can be defined as the process of integration of these cultures into the core European cultural context, which is a context of defined national cultures and intercultural communication. The development and change of cultural identities of the Amerindians in Latin America was analyzed in the context of cultural integrations and disintegrations, commonly implying cultural dominance and cultural resistance and liberation. This dichotomy has usually resulted in a dominance of the implanted European culture that imposed assimilation, but it has also helped to assimilate some authentic values. However, only one Latin American culture remains bilingual, and even its survival is under threat. In this respect, the role of the mass media, democratization and intercultural communication is crucial for the survival of authentic cultural identities. The humanistic and ethical values of cultural change and cultural and artistic creativity therefore need to be particularly stressed. They were discussed in the context of cultural mutations in both western and eastern Europe, where intercultural relations are dominated by the problem of adaptation and integration of eastern and central European cultures into the all-European context. Possible scenarios (cultural rejection, cultural submission, cultural dualism, and fusion of values) were reviewed. Cultural transformation affects all aspects of artistic creativity, which is well reflected in the social position and status of artists.

Different interpretations of culture give rise to different understanding of cultural change, implying both development and transformation. Any major change, however, should be viewed in the context of the relationship between culture and economy, which, through their inherent differences and consequent relations, influences the character of the rapid developmental and transitional changes. In this respect, the choice of a culture, the establishment and development of cultural identities and of the cultural communication context, defines also the character of development and the nature of transformation.

Communication and dialogue between cultures is also based on the concept of culture which is crucial in defining the models and methodologies of cultural communication. The position of local cultural identities in global communication networks is a good illustration of this view. Small local cultures (for instance, in Latin America) may have no access to global communication networks and are often isolated or confined to communication ghettoes. The global networks may thus be accused of acting in favour of the privileged minorities and of undermining the self-expression of small cultures.

Different approaches to intercultural communication were pointed out. While cultural and multicultural communication refers mostly to the synchronic relations among coexisting cultures, the diachronic aspects of communication refer to the communication and interpretation of past values within one culture. The implications of the reinterpretation of past values for the present situation of the restructuring national cultures are multifold and should be carefully analyzed in order to follow and understand the structuring of new values and identities. Synchronic communication implies ‘a cultural mix inside the global mass culture’. From this point of view, external relations change into internal ones, and communication processes become much more complex. Although most local cultures are excluded form global communication, some of their values may be taken out of their immediate context and globalized. They are changed in the process and returned to the original local culture as part of a mass, and not any longer original, popular culture.

The issue of the North-South dialogue was tackled from the perspective of large Third World populations, particularly African, who never get a chance to participate in communication or even understand messages that may reach them. The most relevant issues regarding such populations are not to be found in the communication messages they receive, and therefore the question whether there is any North-South dialogue should be very carefully analyzed.

The Indian understanding of cultural communication is defined by the comprehension of culture as a universal value that brings an individual in direct relation to cosmos. National or ethnic cultural identification is, in this view, too restrictive and inhospitable for the tolerant approaches to cultural differences. Form the perspective of Eastern cultures, the Western-type communication serves to transfer concepts and beliefs, and not to build links among independent, different and autonomous cultures. Instead of imposing models and techniques of communication on different cultures, interpersonal and other forms of communication at the global level should simply provide a link that different cultures may use in different ways and for different purposes.

Modes of communication within different cultures were presented. In Nigeria, for instance, 11 indigenous systems of non-verbal communication may be differentiated. They were illustrated with video materials, music, African masks and fabrics.

The way in which images can describe cultural identity and foster a dialogue between cultures was illustrated with examples from literature and travel narratives which formed images of Spain and attitudes to Spanish culture. The role of images was raised again in the presentation of a survey of images that Croatian secondary school students have of other nations. The processes influencing the formation of such images, and the ways in which they gradually change, were described.

Exclusion/inclusion, access to information, relevance and meaning of the message, adaptation and change of cultural values through the process of global communication could not be easily exhausted, but they were successfully illustrated with numerous examples.

One such example is cultural communication in the context of European cultural mutations, reflected in the search for values, which is itself ‘a sign of the loss of meaning in a culture’. The overhead transparencies presentation entitled ‘Quo vadis, Europa?’, very communicative and effective, emphasized this issue spanning centuries and resurging again today, when the search for values takes place through intercultural communication.

Cultural policies and international cultural cooperation were discussed in the context of a dramatic increase of cultural exchanges and transfers. The international dimension of culture and the arts was also reinforced by the recognition of the economic significance of the cultural sector. The most striking phenomenon in international cultural relations is the character of the market for goods and services produced by the cultural industries. The role of governments in international cultural relations has changed, since cultural cooperation is ever more influenced by economic aspects. International cultural relations are now examined in the context of international and national organizations that are involved in both culture and economics.

Cultural cooperation among the American countries was presented in detail. The elaborate forms of cultural cooperation were first developed within the organization of American states, and later mostly within the framework of different regional organizations. Through well-established specialized regional organizations (e.g., the Interamerican Council for Education, Science and Culture), cultural cooperation has proved successful in connecting even the countries with unsettled economic and political relations.

The discussion of cultural policies in the post-modernist context centred on three examples of cultural policy: the Canadian cultural policy (prototype of the influence of communication technologies on cultures and cultural identity), the Netherlands cultural policy (prototype of cultural democratizaton based on support for good quality, diversity and participation in culture), and the Croatian cultural policy (a national cultural policy defined by the state, on the basis of models taken from the European democracies). The current crisis of cultural policy models and visions of cultural development shows that new global solutions are needed, having in mind the process of economic, financial and technological globalization.

The role of private enterprises and their support for culture and financing of cultural activities was analyzed as a case study of Brazil. Cultural consulting, cultural management and culture intelligence were presented in the context of global cultural relations. Cultural institutions which cannot cope with problems of their financing and restructuration need cultural consulting services; cultural management is characteristic of well-managed cultural institutions which are able to organize their activities according to standards and ideas that are acceptable to the institution and its social surroundings. Cultural intelligence is characteristic of highly developed cultural industries (e.g., film industries), as they project cultural needs and sell their products even before they are produced. While Europe must deal with cultural consulting, and while it copes with some cultural management, the American cultural industries are practising cultural intelligence very successfully. Preparing for the 21st century necessitates a very serious consideration of such aspects of cultural development.

The work of the School for Cultural Management at Dijon, and particularly its programmes transferred to Romania for students from eastern Europe, with the support of the Institut Culture Francais, the British Council, the Goethe Institute and the Cultural Centres of the Czech Republic and Hungary, were presented in the context of cultural management.

The role of networks in cultural change and development is an issue that was taken up from the point of view of different networks and their experiences. The fast growing cultural exchange has introduced new communication needs and diminished the role of the state. Direct contacts are best organized through networks, as they provide for better mutual understanding and more effective functioning. But networks may choose a very narrow specialization and become exclusive ‘clubs’, which invalidates their initial open communicative function. A certain degree of specialization is necessary, but it may be based on rather wide areas, such as arts and education. This field seems to be under-recognized and under-resourced now, although it is fully dedicated to the development of the human potential and the functioning of communities. Developing international networks in the arts and education field can provide rich opportunities for partnerships, which strengthens the field and encourages partnerships across boundaries. Networking is particularly important for the funding of the cultural sector, especially in the ex-socialist countries, where the cultural infrastructure and institutions are barely surviving, and the cultural potential is great and neglected. Networks and cultural communication have become more important since free time has become a significant organizational, cultural and economic issue in the industrial and post-industrial societies. The ‘cultural revolution of free time’ influences cultural identities and supports the building of specialized netwoks.

Global values spread through networks, which should reflect the willingness to participate in the building of sustainable co-development in the economy, finance, new technologies, communication, education, etc. The practice of co-development and the hybridizing of knowledge are the basic elements to support global communication networks. The spread of communication, supported by well-organized networks, is crucial for the fast transfer of new values that define the global setting. Such fast transfer, by and through networks, does not, however, materialize in financial gains, and most networks, paradoxically, remain poor and build their partnerships on direct interpersonal communication. This makes for a great heterogeneity of networks and their ability to influence and change one another through communication.

A number of functioning networks and their communication experiences were presented: the European Network of Cultural Administration Training Centres, the British-American Arts Association, LORETO, PRELUDE, ORACLE, Trans Europe Halles, Network of Literary Translators, Pepinieres europeennes pour jeunes artistes, Les Rencontres, etc. The networks may be devoted to the implementation of cultural projects, to the establishment of closer links between partners, to particular forms of artistic creativity, to links among cities, etc. They raise the effectiveness of communication and enhance development, creating a global developmental context for sustainable development and cultural change.

The multiple functions and roles of networks and the successful communication and easy accessibility of information through them show that networks are indeed a characteristic feature of our times, and that their functioning and development are an expression of the role of new technologies in cultural communication, pointing out all aspects of globalization.

The Culturelink Network – priorities, needs and results; cooperation and joint research projects was discussed to provide an evaluation of the network and to suggest future orientations and developments.

The contemporary socio-cultural context is a context of fragmented cultures pursuing specific and specialized interests. In such a context, this network represents an organization of partners sharing interests and experience in the implementation of a project. The network functions horizontally and defines the common interests, common will and specific cultural orientations of partners. It operates through meetings and permanent contacts. Responsibilities are decentralized. The network links individuals to systems, and makes projects, ideas and people accessible. It introduces new cooperative methods and structures.

Culturelink is a network that fully fits a particular model, but it also actively adjusts the model to some specific needs of its partners. This adjustment is reflected in its heterogeneity on three levels: the network brings together different cultures from different continents and proves that cultural pluralism is the most important part of the global cultural heritage; the network links different cultural institutions and organizations, thus showing its openness and flexibility; the network brings together very different professions (researchers, university professors, cultural practitioners, grass-root developers, different organization activist, etc.). This is possible thanks to the openly pronounced cultural developmental dimension of the network.

Culturelink enjoys the status of an independent project implemented in IRMO. The problem of the legal status and possible registration of Culturelink as a non-governmental organization was raised.

The priorities remain research, development of data bases, and publishing. The results achieved so far encourage us to pursue of the same programme. Joint projects should be particularly encouraged after the conference since direct contacts have been made and the establishment of regional centres proposed.


In view of the fast growth and successful work of Culturelink, the participants of the First World Culturelink Conference and members of the Culturelink Network would like to recommend the following:

(a) The further development and strengthening of communication requires that regional centres for Africa, Asia, America and eastern Europe should be established. These are the regions in which a faster and more effective dissemination of information on cultures and cultural development is needed. The suggested possibility to open a regional centre for the three Americas in Canada is welcomed and supported in this context.

(b) Culturelink should become better integrated with the UNESCO UNITWIN Programme and serve as a network linking the UNESCO chairs all over the world. It could also get involved in other established international research, communication and cooperation programmes in order to support the exchange of information on cultural development and cultural change.

(c) The Culturelink Bulletin might be published in French, Spanish and Russian in order to make it more directly present on the local levels and in different language areas. This would necessitate a substantial rise in investments and building up of new capacities.

(d) The three main activities (research, development of data banks and publishing) should be maintained and strengthened. However, the further steady growth of such activities requires the increased efforts in coordination and organization of work, which directly implies investments in capacity building.

(e) In its research data bases and publishing, the Culturelink network will pay closer attention to the ongoing cultural change and support research and exchange of information on new cultural identities, transformation of cultures, establishment of new cultural values, monitoring of actual influences of new technologies on cultural development, etc.

(f) Financial support for Culturelink remains a problem. Culturelink has been co-financed by UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the Ministries of Culture and Science and Technology of the Republic of Croatia, and by its members through membership fees. However, the Culturelink team is constantly struggling to cover the growing needs for additional funding. To this effect, in order to mobilize the necessary resources for the implementation of the Culturelink programme, the Culturelink members are invited to prepare coordinated requests, under the aegis of the Culturelink network, for financial contributions under the Participation Programme of UNESCO for 1996-1997. These requests can be presented through the UNESCO National Commissions in the countries concerned, or through IGOs and NGOs having agreements of cooperation with UNESCO (deadline 31 December 1996).

(g) Culturelink should make every possible effort to develop partnership relations with the Council of Europe and other regional European organizations, striving to enlarge such privileged partnerships to the establishment of global partnerships.

(h) The participants recommend that UNESCO, the Council of Europe and other regional organizations concerned should be informed about the results and conclusions of the Conference, through the appropriate official channels, with a view to taking these proposals into account in their programme activities.

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