Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Cultural Diversity and Sustainability by Jesse Marsh

Così, da quando Donatella Cinelli Colombini nel 1993 ebbe l’intuizione di ratificare il rapporto tra vino e territorio, fondando il Movimento per il Turismo del Vino, l’appuntamento con “Cantine aperte” è cresciuto in maniera esponenziale, passando dalle poche migliaia di fideisti innamorati enologici di pochi anni fa, al milione di visitatori che l’anno scorso ha letteralmente invaso le sedi di piccoli e grandi produzioni enologiche…

Nei prossimi due anni… almeno la metà dei 10 milioni di italiani che si dichiarano interessati a coniugare vino e vacanze, si trasformeranno in enoturisti praticanti, alimentando un giro d’affari pari a circa 5.000 miliardi di lire.

Un dato straripante che ha colto l’Italia del vino e del turismo quasi di sorpresa.

“Avanti, turisti del vino: le cantine sono in festa”, La Repubblica, 25 May 2001

1.1              Cultural Diversity and the Information Society

One of the basic hypotheses of this research is that cultural diversity can potentially become a key asset in the information society, despite the fact that the project brief identifies culture as an “obstacle”. It is clear from the discussion in the previous chapter that the economic forces of globalisation pose a serious threat to cultural identity. Information technologies are not only the tools that accelerate the pace of globalisation, they are also becoming the key means of access to any good or service. One could thus argue that cultural diversity – meaning any characteristic that does not conform to the homogenised target of the marketing experts – is an obstacle, particularly if that diversity includes the 97% of the world population with no access to the Internet.

In this chapter, we examine the relationship between cultural diversity and the information society, in order to identify the prospects and conditions for a more sustainable future. As a first step, a simple matrix can be used to define the basic problem space of this study: cultural diversity seen as an obstacle and/or an asset in the information society; conversely, the information society seen as a threat and/or an opportunity for cultural diversity. This gives rise to four non-exclusive stances:


The expert interviews expressed a range of views based on this framework. On the one hand, there is the concern for the cultural hegemony of the economic superpowers. The predominance of the “least common denominator” would induce a flattening effect on culture and humanity in general. On the other, they point out how new technologies offer an unprecedented opportunity for cultural expression. This is not only on a result of the communicational richness of multimedia, but also the possibility of access to an enormous variety of resources through the Internet. Indeed, some argue that “cultural diversity is necessary for any significant information society service”.[1]

1.2              Sustainability


Developing the more positive scenario requires that we situate culture in the broader context of the major shared objective of humanity for the 21th century: sustainability. Indeed, the concept of “cultural bio-diversity” expresses the vision in a positive way, with the value of a society directly proportional to the richness of its “meme pool”.[2] We can further examine the link through a prescriptive model,[3] integrating the concepts of cultural diversity and sustainability. Its main components and their relation to inter-culturality are as follows:

The expert interviews further developed the analogy between biological and cultural diversity. The concept of “eco-zones” is a useful means of identifying any definable system with a sustainable equilibrium. A first point is then that this equilibrium is dynamic, characterised by conflict and negotiation between the “inhabitants” of the system. A second point is that eco-zones are fractal, i.e. manifest at different scales from a small pond to the globe. Above all, however, it is the richness and diversity of the constituent elements of an eco-zone that is its main guarantee for survival.

1.3              Individuals and Communities

While cultural diversity may be manifest at different scales, the main arena in which culture is constantly negotiated is the community. An analytical description of this negotiation process is based on the descriptive model[4] illustrated on the following page. Its main elements are:

It should be noted that this framework clarifies some commonly held misconceptions about culture:

In addition, the expert interviews raised the following points:

1.4              A Possible Vision


In order to communicate the essential components of the above analysis in a more human (and humane) fashion, we attempt to describe a vision for, say, the year 2050, in which cultural diversity has emerged as an asset rather than an obstacle. In the first place, we must remind ourselves that any vision should imagine lives characterised by words such as: passion, motivation, dreams, harmony, enabled, vitality, dignity, co-operating, compassion, curiosity, right to alternative lifestyles, right to belong, right to be left alone.

From that standpoint, let’s first attempt a narrative approach:

Ahmed Polanski wakes up in the morning and after feeding the chickens in his back yard and replenishing his home power generator with last night’s leftovers, wanders down to the café in the centre of the village in northern Alentejo which he moved to 5 years ago. He has a morning appointment with his colleagues in Inverness and Tunis to finalise the design of a bio-food store in Frankfurt (the clients expressly asked for a multi-cultural image since that’s what their marketing experts advised).

As Ahmed sips his coffee and taps on the video screen in the outdoor table to respond to a comment from Klaus on a suggested change in the lighting, his daughter Giovanna takes the neighbouring table (after a kiss to Dad) with her virtual schoolmates Mansur and Hanna, to start their history lesson with Ahmed’s father’s hologram projected from Warsaw.

He explains the basic 3rd level story of how the American recession led to the collapse of giants such as Microsoft and McDonald’s with an outbreak of near-war in 2005 and the massive virus attacks on the main Internet nodes in Fairfax, Los Alamos, Dublin, Pattersborn and the Starbuck’s Internet Café in Shanghai. He goes on to tell how regional research centres in Europe linked up with previous partners in the Eastern and Mediterranean countries to improvise new telematics-based forms for basic services such as health and education. The existing structures, formed in respect of the Welfare Privatisation Directive of 2010, had all gone bankrupt in the wake of the downfall of the London, Frankfurt and Paris stock exchanges.

In response to the waves of heavy migration from the cities of Western Europe toward the Eastern and Mediterranean countries, where surviving rural landscapes provided the ideal locations for self-sustaining, multicultural lifestyles (dubbed “smucies” by marketing experts), the Treaty of Athens (2012) established the principles of cultural rights, collective ownership of cultural heritage, and open source for intellectual property. This landmark event is commonly recognised as providing the framework for today’s economic well-being, whose first signs became evident in the early ‘20s.

We now attempt a more structured description of the vision:

  1. Strong Communities
    Trust + Identity + Creativity


From the expert interviews, one point emerges clearly regarding this vision: the need to find a sustainable balance between identity and openness, anchoring and dialogue, belonging and not belonging, and differences and similarities.


[1] Aleksi Neuvonen, Expert Interview

[2] Charles Landry, Expert Interview

[3] As developed in the ISPO/ISIAS Project.

[4] Developed in the research team’s brainstorming meeting in Brussels, 13-14 January 2001.


Note: this paper was part of a study Jesse Marsh made on behalf of the European Parliament / STOA - European Greens in 2001 on the theme 'Cultural Diversity in the Information Society'

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