Posted to the Ethnos Project by on March 17th, 2011

The source of this excerpt is Mike’s weekly segment (dated February 24, 2011) on called “The Cultural Weapon”.


In the last few years, there has been much talk, conferencing, seminars, papers about and celebration of the mantra that “culture is a vector of development”. For example, in Brussels in 2009, the European Union together with the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) Secretariat hosted an international conference on this theme. This was followed up with another conference in Girona in May 2010 reinforcing the same theme. Then at the end of last year, with global leaders meeting to evaluate progress made towards the achievement of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, a resolution was passed at the United Nations that emphasised “the important contribution of culture for sustainable development and the achievement of national development objectives and internationally agreed development goals including the Millennium Development

It is ironic that culture is now seen as a vector of development when in the post-colonial era, culture was viewed as the chief obstacle to development. One development theorist summarised this view thus: Basically…so-called traditional societies…are underdeveloped because of a lack of important propellants of development, including a work ethic, morals, innovative and entrepreneurial capacity, free market mechanisms, a propensity for taking risks and organisational acumen. The absence of these factors, according to the theory, is itself a function of flaws in the culture, customs and social mores of traditional societies. Particularly noteworthy in this latter respect is the fact that the theory considers the leading cause of underdevelopment in so-called traditional societies as the fact that such societies tend to place a lot of emphasis on kinship and family rather than on individual success and little or no emphasis on sophisticated
technology and the acquisition of material wealth.

Those subscribing to this theory concluded that it was impossible for Africa to develop without abandoning its traditional practices and assuming Eurocentric cultural values, beliefs and ideology.

The implications were that Africans should banish notions of kinship and family in favour of individual success and individual pursuit of wealth, adopt the morals associated with these and become more entrepreneurial in their orientation.

The more progressive view that emerged at this time was that development strategies – to be effective – had to respect and take cognisance of the worldviews, values and social forms of organisation – i.e. the culture – of the supposed beneficiaries of development, and not simply impose models that worked in other contexts, onto such communities. This was the background against which the notion of “culture as an integral factor of development” was initially born in the sixties…

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