Ref. :  000026608
Date :  2003-03-17
Language :  English
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Cultural diversity

Cultural diversity

Faced with a commercial publicisation which dissolves its very interest and validity, it seems indispensable to remake of cultural diversity a concept, and to give this concept back its rightful and exceptional worth, resolutely anchored in its contemporary horizon. I will propose five words, five points of reference, to re-define cultural diversity : ‘diverse’, ‘cultural’, ‘dynamic’, ‘response’ and ‘project’.

Cultural diversity is diverse, which constitutes the first subject of omission and collective slippage. As if everyone understood it in a homogenous, identical… and, precisely: non-diverse way! The 'diverse' should not be confused with its usual equivalents: the different, the plural, the multiple, the varied, etc. It demands a proper logical and ontological dignity. We must recognise that the diverse of diversity, with its contemporary meaning in Romance and Germanic languages is only a quite weak and approximate notion – and it is certainly not yet a concept. In order to extract the not-yet-in-existence-concept of diversity from the friendly flabiness that made it such a success, the return to the Latin meaning of diversus seems indispensable. When we look at its usage in Caesar, Sallustus and Tacitus, who make wide use of it, we notice that the apparent signified is mainly that of ‘the opposed’, ‘the divergent’, ‘the contradictory’ and ‘the different’ in their active sense, and not that, dominant today, of ‘the varied’, or ‘the multiple’. Divertere means to turn oneself in a different direction, to detach oneself, to separate oneself, to distance oneself. There is always the dimension of movement and of a struggle, but also, simply, of life, which has nothing to do with the simple accounting if not administrative observation of variety or multiplicity.

Cultural diversity is cultural! Neither a tautology, nor a truism ; all the more so as the World Summit on sustainable development (WSSD) at Johannesburg in August 2002 has precisely persisted in confusing the fate of biodiversity with that of cultural diversity, and putting its emphasis on the rapprochement of the battles in favour of the preservation of these two types of diversity (1). To imagine cultural diversity ‘reinforced’ by being naturalised – by repatriating it into the natural order…— would not only be naïve, but also criminal, from a philosophical and anthropological point of view. That would have as its corollary to deny the specificity of culture and to erase the tradition of modern thought concerning it. The diversus of cultural diversity requires its etymology to recall that there is not — that there cannot be – cultural diversity other than in the struggle between cultural forms, on the one hand, against ‘nature’ — and its ‘biodiversity’—, on the other, against other cultural forms. The cultural diverse only becomes what it is through the trial of this continual struggle on two fronts against the biodiverse and itself (against the other and the multiple of cultures).

Cultural diversity must be dynamic, and relentlessly so, failing that it would be reduced to a dead form of patrimonial heritage… This too may seem ‘evident’, and yet, the very idea of ‘preserving and promoting cultural diversity’ (which has rightfully acquired a certain notoriety since November 2001 and the approbation of the UNESCO’s universal declaration), even if it clearly denotes a process, a movement, still remains far too static. Everything goes as if it were firstly a matter of normalising in order to be able to ‘better manage’ afterwards. In opposition to this (political conventional) attitude of systematic avoidance of that which could upset and oppose in the diversus, the ambiguities and contradictions inherent to the intercultural dynamic should be highlighted and appreciated at their true worth: claiming that cultural diversity is dynamic and not only accountable presupposes stripping diversity of its ‘saintly’ halo

Cultural diversity must stop being taken only as a ‘question’ to be also understood as a ‘response’. According to the current estimation of cultural diversity, the flow of interrogations it generates amounts to very little : we wonder about the meaning and limits of cultural diversity; we strive to list its forms; we discuss the disappearance of heritages, et cetera. But we do not put at the heart of thought and action that cultural diversity gives rise to the idea that it must be a response: a political, social, educational or even economic response. Cultural diversity must be simultaneously viewed as a question and a response: a question unceasingly formulated and shooting at what it could be, and a response which never stops discovering, inventing, and finding itself. The response that cultural diversity holds is Aufhebung in the Hegelian sense: that which ‘suppresses’ whilst at the same time ‘maintaining’, which remembers its history whilst at the same time destroying it, which is capable of surpassing such a history by assuming its crimes and grandeurs, a relève (as Derrida translated) which carries forward the movement of culture.

Cultural diversity must become what it is – or should not have stopped being –, namely a project : a coherent and systematic collection of analyses, theses, ends and means which, shared by a community of interests (public interest and general interest), is set to work by it in order to attain the ends that it has fixed for itself. Firstly, a theoretical project. The primary urgency is a work of critical reassessment which demands to see this concept founded in reason, a priori without restriction, in all its modalities and approved by all cultures – in particular non-Western cultures (in this respect, it must be noted that the work in question has, for the most part, already been achieved, and that it needs to be gathered together and tackled contradictorily and trans-disciplinarily, rather than ‘redone’). Secondly, a legal project. It is a matter of taking up things that have been neglected, and to irrevocably link the approach of cultural diversity through, on the one hand, philosophy, human and social sciences, and on the other, public, private and international law. It is a matter of remaking and consolidating the link between these disciplinary approaches to make them converge in the development of a general corpus of cultural diversity capable of responding to the current requirements of the diplomatic and multilateral commercial scene. Finally, a political project. It is necessary, here too, to found all possible policy for cultural diversity on the ground edified by philosophy, human, social and legal sciences. Only then, will cultural diversity be able to genuinely become this political project that it could not avoid being, and affirm and reiterate the irreducibility of the vast educational, linguistic and cultural domain to the commercial sphere, in order to impose, in a sustainable way, its exemption from the norms of commercial law – in order to reply blow for blow to the strategy for unlimited domination of ‘major’ private companies with a strategy for unreserved domination of the general and public interest.

(1) Cf. The round table ‘Cultural diversity, biological diversity and sustainable development’ which was held in Johannesburg 3rd September 2002.

(This article synthesises a longer study by the same author. It can be found at the following address :

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