The process of human communication has aroused interest since ancient times but it was only during the second half of the twentieth century that communication emerged as one of the leading fields in scientific research: it has become an object of study within disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, social psychology, economics, physics, education and political science, among others. The interconnection of several fields, for example the audiovisual field, information technology and telecommunications, has considerably increased the number of channels for the transmission of information, and these are increasingly becoming organised into networks. The democratisation of communication, in particular since the 1980s which saw the arrival of the “communication society” with a spectacular growth in new communication technologies, made access to culture and to different forms of creative expression more possible. This contributed to the democratisation of culture itself, not in the sense of a uniform type of participation but leading towards a greater openness to different cultural values. Marked by the rise in power of networks, the end of the twentieth century has been aptly called the “age of networks” and has seen the thriving of their potentialities in favour of new forms of interaction, sociability and participation. The act of communicating has become one of the most important purposes of our society.
It was in the search for horizontal interactive communication that the research networks developed in various fields, such as health and nutrition, the environment and the social sciences, with particular growth in the field of culture and cultural development. So what led to this growth? It was primarily the fact that cultural networks can be set up in any region of the world, irrespective of their degree of development and the existing imbalances in their international exchanges. With the support of cultural networks, societies and different systems of production can use communication to enable them to promote their cultures and cultural specificities. The cultural networks represent a flexible model of communication – open and heterogeneous – which allows a society to learn about the problems of other societies and to thus achieve a better understanding of its own problems. Cultural networks encourage the opening up of choices and objectives on a non-hierarchical basis and enable new forms of creation and international cooperation. Thanks to the circulation of different ideas and values, it is through the networks that new forms of exchange of cultural experiences, cultural participation and intercultural dialogue take place. One of the essential elements that the cultural networks offer for the promotion of intercultural dialogue is a democratic and non-discriminatory approach to culture, openness towards other cultures, a widening space for dialogue and cooperation. Cultural networks know no boundaries. They embrace people from across the world with different fields of interest and levels of experience but who share a commitment to intercultural dialogue. It is often highlighted that an intercultural Europe is une affaire de réseaux: cultural pluralism is seen as an opportunity for interaction where cultures express not only their specificities, their diversity but also their tolerance towards other cultures.
Cultural networks play a decisive role at international level in the promotion of cultural diversity. The networking of cultures brings a new dynamic of cultural diversity at world level. The meaning of this phrase, “networking of cultures” has three dimensions, namely: culture, communication and new technologies. Through organisation in networks, the new technologies modify the means of communication of cultural content. Cultural life becomes deinstitutionalised and non-governmental partners and new actors have an ever greater role in cultural development at all levels – local, regional, interregional and global. Cultural networks initiate and foster the transnational mobility of artists and the mobility of goods and services of cultural and creative industries in accessing new market opportunities internationally. Cultural networks introduce new ideas, forms and working methods to international cultural relations, based on the non-existence of closed structures. It is for this reason that the UNESCO World Report on Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue highlights the importance of cultural networks “in overcoming closed identities and promoting cultural pluralism”. In fact, our globalised world may be perceived as a network of diverse cultures which continuously express the necessity of interactive relations for their existence and for the development of new creative values and practices.
The cultural networks cover a wide range of activities, from information exchange, education, management, mobility of artists to research and joint projects, also including sectors such as museums, music, theatre, publishing, libraries, cultural heritage, design, etc. The numerous activities of cultural networks (European and worldwide), for example those of the political platform for arts and culture (Culture Action Europe), the European network on arts and cultural management and cultural policy education (ENCATC), the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa (OCPA), the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA), and the Network of Networks for Research and Cooperation in Cultural Development (CULTURELINK), demonstrate that their work, however different it may be, is based on the same approach, with a common recognition of the diversity of cultures as a component of their identity and as a factor that contributes to the promotion of their interaction.
The twenty-first century has introduced a new transformation of the networks with the move from the networking of cultures to networked cultures. This process does not mean, however, that the aim of networks is already accomplished: the existence of networked cultures does not mean the end of networks or that they will sink into a static form of existence. Their future lies in the dynamic processes of transformation and change. Today, the whole field of international relations is marked by the activities of transnational and transcultural networks whose focus is on developing an understanding of the interdependence of cultures. Nevertheless, as several research studies have shown, cultural policies, like public policies in general, are very slow to recognise the potential of cultural networks. Cultural policies could play a vital role in supporting these networks but, for this to happen, these policies should be rethought. This calls for new ways of working and cooperating in a world that is increasingly interdependent and where the networks represent an authentic expression of cultural change.
Breton, Philippe and Proulx, Serge: L’explosion de la communication: la naissance d’une nouvelle idéologie. Paris, Editions La Découverte, 1993, 323 pages, ISBN 9782707122919
Cvjeticanin Biserka (ed.): Networks: The Evolving Aspects of Culture in the 21st Century. Zagreb, Culturelink-IMO, 2011, 282 pages, ISBN 978-953-6096-57-2
Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue. Paris, UNESCO Publishing, 2009, 402 pages, ISBN 978-92-3-104077-1
Matarasso, François: Re-thinking Cultural Policy. CultureWatchEurope Conference, the Council of Europe, 2010, 10 pages
Pehn, Gudrun: La mise en réseau des cultures. Le rôle des réseaux culturels européens. Strasbourg, Council of Europe Publishing, 1999, 117 pages, ISBN 92-871-3924-5
White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue: Living Together As Equals in Dignity. Strasbourg, Council of Europe Publishing, 2008, 61 pages