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Cultural diversity

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Harmony Day is dedicated to celebrating Australia's cultural diversity.
Harmony Day is dedicated to celebrating Australia's cultural diversity.

Cultural diversity is the quality of diverse or different cultures, as opposed to monoculture, the global monoculture, or a homogenization of cultures, akin to cultural decay. The phrase cultural diversity can also refer to having different cultures respect each other's differences. The phrase "cultural diversity" is also sometimes used to mean the variety of human societies or cultures in a specific region, or in the world as a whole. Globalization is often said to have a negative effect on the world's cultural diversity.


Diversity refers to the attributes that people use to confirm themselves with respect to others, “that person is different from me.” These attributes include demographic factors (such as race, gender, and age) as well as values and cultural norms.[1] The many separate societies that emerged around the globe differ markedly from each other, and many of these differences persist to this day. The more obvious cultural differences that exist between people are language, dress, and traditions, there are also significant variations in the way societies organize themselves, such as in their shared conception of morality, religious belief, and in the ways, they interact with their environment. Cultural diversity can be seen as analogous to biodiversity.[2]

People of Muslim cultural background in a park in London, a city with a Muslim minority
People of Muslim cultural background in a park in London, a city with a Muslim minority

Opposition and support

By analogy with biodiversity, which is thought to be essential to the long-term survival of life on earth, it can be argued that cultural diversity may be vital for the long-term survival of humanity; and that the conservation of indigenous cultures may be as important to humankind as the conservation of species and ecosystems is to life in general. The General Conference of UNESCO took this position in 2001, asserting in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity that "...cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature."[3]

This position is rejected by some people,[weasel words] on several grounds. Firstly, like most evolutionary accounts of human nature, the importance of cultural diversity for survival may be an un-testable hypothesis, which can neither be proved nor disproved. Secondly, it can be argued that it is unethical deliberately to conserve "less developed" societies because this will deny people within those societies the benefits of technological and medical advances enjoyed by those in the "developed" world.[citation needed]

In the same manner that the promotion of poverty in underdeveloped nations as "cultural diversity" is unethical. It is unethical to promote all religious practices simply because they are seen to contribute to cultural diversity. Particular religious practices are recognized by the WHO and UN as unethical, including female genital mutilation, polygamy, child brides, and human sacrifice.[4]

With the onset of globalization, traditional nation-states have been placed under enormous pressures. Today, with the development of technology, information and capital are transcending geographical boundaries and reshaping the relationships between the marketplace, states, and citizens. In particular, the growth of the mass media industry has largely impacted on individuals and societies across the globe. Although beneficial in some ways, this increased accessibility has the capacity to negatively affect a society's individuality. With information being so easily distributed throughout the world, cultural meanings, values, and tastes run the risk of becoming homogenized. As a result, the strength of identity of individuals and societies may begin to weaken.[5][6]

Some individuals maintain that it is in the best interests of individuals and of humanity as a whole that all people adhere to a specific model for society or specific aspects of such a model.

Ethical cultural relativism refers to the position that every action must be judged according to the standards of the culture to which the individual who performed it belongs. According to this perspective, moral behaviour is just a matter of following the social norms of one’s culture and there are no higher moral standards by which a culture’s norms can be challenged. Proponents of cultural relativism assert that it prevents intolerance and promotes cultural diversity. Critics point out the logical problems faced by cultural relativism as well as its controversial implications. One of the most pressing logical issues with cultural relativism is that it implies the impossibility of disagreements between cultures and that two contradictory statements can be true at the same time.

For example, consider the case of members from two different societies debating the statement that women should enjoy full political equality with men. If the members of one society affirm that women should enjoy political equality while the members of the other society affirm the opposite, they make contradictory statements. Proponents of cultural relativism affirm that the disagreement is solved if the members of the two societies acknowledge that their affirmations about the status of women are just descriptive statements about the dominant cultural norms of their respective societies. This method does not solve any cultural disagreements, only changes the format of expressing them in such a way that true disagreements becomes impossible. If cultural relativism is accepted, persons who belong to multiple cultures at the same time face ethical dilemmas which are unsolvable since cultural relativism acknowledges no higher moral standards which can arbitrate cultural contradictions.

The controversial implication of cultural relativism include the idea that social norms are infallible and no individual can challenge them on moral grounds, that every moral code held by a culture is just as acceptable as any other even if it contains prejudices such as racism or sexism and the impossibility of moral progress due to the lack of universal standards according to which a society's norms may be judged. Due to its logical flaws and controversial implications, cultural relativism failed to attract widespread acceptance among ethical philosophers.[7]


Cultural diversity is difficult to quantify, but a good indication is thought to be a count of the number of languages spoken in a region or in the world as a whole. By this measure, we may be going through a period of the precipitous decline in the world's cultural diversity. Research carried out in the 1990s by David Crystal (Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor) suggested that at that time, on average, one language was falling into disuse every two weeks. He calculated that if that rate of the language death were to continue, then by the year 2100 more than 90% of the languages currently spoken in the world will have gone extinct.[8]

Overpopulation, immigration and imperialism (of both the militaristic and cultural kind) are reasons that have been suggested to explain any such decline. However, it could also be argued that with the advent of globalism, a decline in cultural diversity is inevitable because information sharing often promotes homogeneity.[citation needed]

Cultural heritage

Sydney's Chinatown
Sydney's Chinatown

The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity adopted by UNESCO in 2001 is a legal instrument that recognizes cultural diversity as the "common heritage of humanity" and considers its safeguarding to be a concrete and ethical imperative inseparable from respect for human dignity.[9]

Beyond the Declaration of Principles adopted in 2003 at the Geneva Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, adopted in October 2005, is a legally binding instrument to all States Parties to the Convention that recognizes

  • The distinctive nature of cultural goods, services, and activities as vehicles of identity, values, and meaning;
  • That while cultural goods, services, and activities have important economic value, they are not mere commodities or consumer goods that can only be regarded as objects of trade.[10]

It was adopted in response to "growing pressure exerted on countries to waive their right to enforce cultural policies and to put all aspects of the cultural sector on the table when negotiating international trade agreements".[11] Civil society played an important role in the elaboration and adoption of the 2005 Convention.[12]

To date, 116 member states, as well as the European Union, have ratified the Convention, except the US, Australia and Israel.[13] States Parties recognize the specificity of cultural goods and services, as well as state sovereignty and public services in this area. Thought for world trade, this soft law instrument (meaning non-binding) clearly became a crucial reference to the definition of the European policy choice.[clarification needed] In 2009, the European Court of Justice favored a broad view of culture—beyond cultural values through the protection of film or the objective of promoting linguistic diversity yet previously recognized. On top of it, under this Convention, the EU and China have committed to fostering more balanced cultural exchanges, strengthening international cooperation and solidarity with business and trade opportunities in cultural and creative industries. The most motivating factor behind Beijing's willingness to work in partnership at the business level might certainly be the access to creative talents and skills from foreign markets.

There is also the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage ratified on June 20, 2007, by 78 states which said:

The intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and gives them a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.

Cultural diversity was also promoted by the Montreal Declaration of 2007, and by the European Union.[14][15] The idea of a global multicultural heritage covers several ideas, which are not exclusive (see multiculturalism). In addition to language, diversity can also include religious or traditional practice.

On a local scale, Agenda 21 for culture, the first document of world scope that establishes the foundations for a commitment by cities and local governments to cultural development, supports local authorities committed to cultural diversity.


The defense of cultural diversity can take several meanings:

  • A balance to be achieved: thus, the idea of defense of cultural diversity through the promotion of actions in favor of "cultural minorities" said to be disadvantaged;
  • Preservation of "cultural minorities" thought to be endangered;
  • "Cultural protection" or "cultural exception" defends the social vision of culture against its commercialization. The cultural exception highlights the specificity of cultural products and services, including special recognition by the European Union in its Declaration on Cultural Diversity. In this context, the objective is to defend against what is seen as a "commodification"—considered harmful to a "disadvantaged" culture—supporting its development through grants, promotion operations, etc., also known as "cultural protectionism".
  • This defense may also refer to incorporating "cultural rights" provisions, conducted unsuccessfully in the early 1990s in Europe, into a layer of human rig

Cultural uniformity

In a specific occasion of social life, or custom, cultural uniformity can be observed and displayed in behaviors of a community.[16]

Cultural diversity is presented as the antithesis of cultural uniformity.

Some (including UNESCO) fear this hypothesis of a trend towards cultural uniformity. To support this argument they emphasize different aspects:

  • The disappearance of many languages and dialects, regarding, for example, the languages of France, without legal status or protection (Breton, Corsican, Occitan, Alsatian, Flemish, Poitou, Saintonge, etc.).
  • Anxiety of people on the preservation of their traditions as in New Zealand, coastal regions in Australia, North America, Central America;
  • Increasing cultural preeminence of the United States through the distribution of its products in film, television, music, clothing and nutritional products promoted in audio-visual media, consumer products virtually standardized on the planet (pizza, restaurants, fast food, etc..).

There are several international organizations that work towards protecting threatened societies and cultures, including Survival International and UNESCO. The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted by 185 Member States in 2001, represents the first international standard-setting instrument aimed at preserving and promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue.[3]

Indeed, the notion of "cultural diversity" has been echoed by more neutral organizations, particularly within the UNESCO. Beyond the Declaration of Principles adopted in 2003 at the Geneva Phase of the World Summit on the information Society (WSIS), the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was adopted on 20 October 2005, but neither ratified by the US, Australia nor by Israel. It is instead a clear recognition of the specificity of cultural goods and services, as well as state sovereignty and public services in this area. Thought for world trade, this soft law instrument (strength in not binding) clearly became a crucial reference to the definition of the European policy choice. In 2009, the European Court of Justice favored a broad view of culture—beyond cultural values—through the protection of film or the objective of promoting linguistic diversity yet previously recognized. On top of it, under this Convention, the EU and China have committed to fostering more balanced cultural exchanges, strengthening international cooperation and solidarity with business and trade opportunities in cultural and creative industries.[17]

The European Commission-funded Network of Excellence on "Sustainable Development in a Diverse World" (known as "SUS.DIV") builds upon the UNESCO Declaration to investigate the relationship between cultural diversity and sustainable development.[18]

Cultural Diversity on Western Balkan Countries

In 2005 the relations of EU and Western Balkan countries were passed from “External Relations” to “Enlargement” policy. As WB countries make steps forward in the future membership of the EU, the diversity in society within the WB is expected to further increase. It is important to see the relationship between cultural diversity and ethnic fractionalization from one side and governance, competitiveness and human development from the other side. Even though the literature argues that cultural diversity has negative impact on countries’ performance, the study of Hysa (2020) finds out that highly homogenous societies in WB are no more prone to good governance, global competitiveness and human development than highly heterogeneous societies within the region. In other words, countries with lower fractionalization index (such as Kosovo and Serbia) do not show a significantly higher performance than countries with higher fractionalization index (such as Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina). Thus, the influence of regional geographic distance seems to be much more significant compared to cultural diversity because the economic capacity and performance of WB countries are found to be positive but still modest. The Western Balkan countries are having a considerable mixture of ethnicities, languages and religions. These varieties can push this group of countries to have a consensus among them in the economic aspects or to increase the gap among each other.[19]

See also

Cultural diversity in Wikimedia Foundation


  1. ^ Ferris, G.; Frink, D.; Galang, M.C. (1993). "Diversity in the Workplace: The Human Resources Management Challenges". Human Resource Planning. 16 (1): 42.
  2. ^ Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, Article 1
  3. ^ a b UNESCO (2002). "UNESCO Universal Declaration On Cultural Diversity" (PDF). UNESCO Universal Declaration On the Cultural Diversity (in French, English, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese). UNESCO. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  4. ^ Starr, Amory; Jason Adams (2003). "Anti-globalization: The Global Fight for Local Autonomy". New Political Science. 25 (1): 19–42. doi:10.1080/0739314032000071217. S2CID 144496048.
  5. ^ "Error (404)" (PDF). The University of Sydney.[dead link]
  6. ^ Cavanagh, John; Mander, Jerry (10 October 2004). Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN 9781605094090 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Shafer-Landau, Russ (2018). The Fundamentals of Ethics. Oxford University Press. pp. 295–305. ISBN 9780190631390.
  8. ^ David Crystal Language Death Cambridge University Press, 2000
  9. ^ "UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity: UNESCO". Retrieved 2018-05-22.
  10. ^ "Diversity of Cultural Expressions".
  11. ^ "CDC - CCD" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
  12. ^ "The Work of Other Institutions on a New Legal Instrument on Cultural Diversity". Diversity of Cultural Expressions. 2015-10-12. Retrieved 2020-06-18.
  13. ^ Hacker, Violaine (2011), "Building Medias Industry while promoting a community of values in the globalization: from quixotic choices to pragmatic boon for EU Citizens", Politické Védy-Journal of Political Science, Slovakia.
  14. ^ "The Montréal Declaration : Cultural diversity". Retrieved 2018-05-22.
  15. ^ Anonymous (2016-06-16). "Culture in the European Union - European Union - European Commission". European Union. Retrieved 2018-05-22.
  16. ^ "Explain cultural uniformity and cultural variability with examples". Retrieved 2017-02-26.
  17. ^ Hacker, Violaine (2011a), "Building Medias Industry while promoting a community of values in the globalization: from quixotic choices to pragmatic boon for EU Citizens", Politické Védy-Journal of Political Science, Slovakia, pp. 64-74
  18. ^ SUS.DIV
  19. ^ Hysa, E. (2020). "Impact of Cultural Diversity on Western Balkan Countries' Performance". Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies. 7 (1): 20–40. doi:10.29333/ejecs/292.
  • Khal Torabully (with Marina Carter), Coolitude: An Anthology of the Indian Labour Diaspora, Anthem Press 2002) ISBN 1-84331-003-1

External links

This page was last edited on 19 October 2020, at 20:49
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