Cultural turns in international aid?
The cultural turn in international aid refers, in this volume, to three phenomena: first, the cultural turn in projects on economic development, second, the cultural turn in human development projects and finally cultural and heritage diplomacy.
The cultural turn in economic development projects funded by international aid is already well covered in past publications (Schech and Haggis, 2000; Radcliffe, 2006; Nederveen Pieterse, 2010), including in volumes published in this series (see Basu and Modest, 2015; Stupples and Teaiwa, 2016). It is generally agreed that this cultural turn was caused by the failure of development models as narrow technical exercises that aimed to bring progress, modernization and economic growth to developing countries (Labadi and Gould, 2015: 199; Labadi, 2018: 38). The cultural turn in international aid, in this context, aims to take better account of the specificities of cultural contexts and local communities (Nederveen Pieterse, 2010: 64) and is based on bottom-up approaches, so that economic development projects are better aligned with and respond to the actual needs of these communities. This cultural turn is also characterized by the inclusion of cultural heritage in, and as, economic development projects. At least until the 1980s, cultural heritage was considered as useless and backward, and often destroyed in the name of development, progress and growth. A turn occurred in the 1980s with the utilitarian consideration of heritage for development. The protection, restoration and rehabilitation of heritage could bring significant economic growth through job creation in the building trade, tourism, foreign investment and lead to rising property prices. The World Bank has been at the forefront of such uses of heritage (see Bigio and Licciardi, 2010; Throsby, 2012; but also Lafrenz Samuels, this volume). Development professionals believed that this model would reduce poverty. Heritage for development projects would create economic opportunities for the poorer segments of societies through greater use of their traditions and knowledge, considered as their key assets. However, this approach has exactly the same goal as traditional development projects, which is to bring economic growth to targeted communities, although this time it is through greater consideration of heritage. In other words, the methods might have changed but the goal and end results are the same as before.
This volume moves beyond this understanding of the cultural turn as economic development, to take greater account of alternative models of a fulfilled life. One such form promotes culture as key to peace-building, postconflict reconstruction and reconciliation, which are increasingly included as components of sustainable development (UNCSD, 2012). Culture, primarily understood as material and intangible heritage but also as including the creative industries, is often considered the basis for rebuilding the identity, resilience and self-confidence of communities as part of postconflict or postdisaster reconstruction (see chapters in this volume by Nut and Kisic). The assumption here is that intangible and material heritage as well as the creative industries are some of the most visible signs of identity and belonging. Restoring material heritage and reviving intangible manifestations and creative industries can lead to rebuilding individual and collective forms of identity, as well as cohesion and social relations, which have been damaged by conflicts or disasters. This logic obviously obeys a universalizing view of culture as appreciated by all and an idealistic understanding of societies that ignores the past conditions and social relations that have resulted in violent conflicts. Another problematic aspect of this approach, as covered by Nut in this volume, is the revival of the creative industries solely for tourists and not for the benefits of locals.
A fulfilled life cannot be achieved without respect for human rights. For this reason, this volume discusses critically cultural projects funded through international aid that aim to protect the rights of children and of adults. A human rights-based approach is an essential component of an ethical framework to heritage management and conservation. It shapes fundamental questions about whose heritage should be protected, whose rights are affected and how stakeholders influence these processes (see Larsen and
Sinding-Larsen, this volume). Another aspect of the cultural turn considered is how creative play, artistic interventions and laughter can make a real change to children affected by humanitarian disasters. This is a way of fulfilling Article 31.1 of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child which recognizes ‘the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts’ (United Nations, 1989).
A final phenomenon covered is the use of international aid for cultural diplomacy (including heritage diplomacy) by governments. Cultural diplomacy can be defined as soft power, that is the capacity to obtain a benefit without the use of economic or military means, but by generating a positive attraction that facilitates the accumulation of other forms of power (Nye, 2004: 5). For Zamorano, two types of cultural diplomacy exist. First, a culturalist and benevolent approach of artistic, intellectual and cultural-pedagogical exchanges that aims to promote a country’s culture and, in this process, acts as soft influence. The other model is a neo-propagandist approach which instrumentalizes culture for national, political and economic gains and interests (Zamorano, 2016: 178-179). Cultural diplomacy as soft power has been used both by capitalist and communist countries to expand their economic and geopolitical spheres of influence over the past 50 years. To win the ‘hearts and minds’ of African leaders, North Korea, for instance, used cultural and heritage diplomacy (see e.g., Kersel and Luke, 2015) as part of their African foreign policy. This took the form of ‘gifts’, including the construction by Pyongyang of the 50 meter-tall Tiglachin monument (meaning ‘our struggle’ in Amharic) in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), offered to Ethiopia in 1984 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the overthrow of Emperor Haile-Selassie (Jopela, 2017: 124-125). In the context of the Cold War, for North Korea, diplomacy with newly independent African nations was a strategy to gain some influence, recognition and legitimacy. In a postCold War context, cultural diplomacy can help a government to be more visible and influential in the international arena, as has been the case for Japan with its international aid programmes for heritage conservation projects, for instance in Hue in Vietnam (Akagawa, 2014; Logan this volume). However, cultural diplomacy can also have insidious, negative and unforeseen consequences. As a mechanism where the tastes, practices and lifestyles of donor countries (usually from the Global North) can affect targeted populations, cultural diplomacy can lead to downgraded senses of collective and personal identity, pride and self-achievement among aid receiving societies, who tend to be from the Global South (see Thiaw and Ly, this volume).
This edited volume of commissioned papers aims to fill a gap in academic knowledge through critical analyses of the complex and multifarious dimensions of the cultural turn in international aid. This volume also assesses whether the cultural turn characterizes aid-funded cultural projects. The first section addresses how international organizations have defined the cultural turn in international aid, whether and how these approaches have changed over time. It also considers the limits of these models. To do so, this section provides a historical and genealogical contextualization of international aid for culture by engaging in critical discussions about the different definitions, approaches and discourses developed by international and regional organizations over time. Furthermore, this section critically assesses to what extent and in what ways broader aid and development frameworks (e.g. the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals) have had an impact on international cultural approaches and discourses.
More specifically, De Beukelaer’s and Vlassis’s chapter discusses how key international organizations define the ‘creative economy’ and the implications of these definitions for aid, funding, collaborations and policies. The chapter by Dabdoub Nasser and Bouquerel examines culture in the European Union (EU) aid programme for the Mediterranean region and links it to the EU discourse on culture since 1995. In doing so, it highlights key changes and challenges, including the increasing bottom-up use of culture to prevent radicalization, whilst also addressing the ambiguities of the EU’s actions. Lafrenz Samuels charts the cultural turn in international aid and economic development at the World Bank from the 1980s onwards, details critically its implementations in urban projects and exposes its limits in dealing with some key transnational challenges. Finally, Labadi charts the attempts by UNESCO to put culture at the heart of the international aid and development agenda in 2000 and 2015, and brings forward possible explanations for the failures of such efforts.
The second section shifts to in-depth critical analyses of donor-funded cultural projects at national and local levels. This part assesses why projects have been funded, and discusses their short-, medium- and long-term impacts on the ground. It also assesses whether these projects created relations of power and inequality between stakeholders of aid funded projects and how these have manifested on the ground. Whenever relevant, these contributions consider whether these initiatives have been used for negotiating broader geopolitical, diplomatic and economic agendas. Some contributions also critically assess the reasons why donor-funded projects often fail and the lessons that can be learnt.
More specifically, Morgan provides an autoethnographic insight into his work on the Liberian music industry sector, which had been undertaken as part of a consultancy project for the World Bank. Morgan self-consciously engages with the assumptions which had guided his research, and the failures of his approach. Staying in Africa, Thiaw and Ly discuss the recent renaming of a square on Gorée Island in Senegal as the Place de l’Europe, following a grant from the European Union, and consider international aid and power relations, knowledge making and memory politics in relation to this case study. Using a similar method as Morgan, Kurlanska, another US scholar, reflects critically on the community library she set up in Nicaragua, during her time as a Peace Corps volunteer, and the reasons for the relative failure of such a project, in terms of sustainability and the empowerment of community members. Nut assesses how international aid for cultural NGOs has transformed the traditional performing arts sector in Cambodia, charting their increasing move towards commercialization and international tourist markets. Continuing the reflection on Asia, Logan charts Australia’s use of soft power and cultural diplomacy over the past 25 years, and discusses its weak status compared to other aid sectors in Australia and other countries from the region.
The third and final section assesses whether and how donor-funded cultural projects help to address global challenges. This part pays particular attention to the reasons why culture (understood primarily as heritage) is considered the best medium to address these challenges, whilst also examining the motives behind donor-funded projects. It also assesses the effectiveness of using culture to address global challenges, as well as the short-, medium- and long-term impacts of such approaches. More specifically, Kisic critically considers whether and how cultural heritage can contribute to postwar reconciliation through the case study of post-Yugoslav heritage reconstruction, professional capacity building and the (re)interpretation of heritage. Jigyasu reflects on post-disaster reconstruction for heritage sites. Broadening his reflection, he considers whether traditional knowledge and techniques can be integrated into the design and construction of housing as well. Larsen and Sinding-Larsen consider whether international funding of cultural heritage projects can promote and protect human rights. They then present the ‘Our Common Dignity’ project and reflect candidly on issues and lessons learnt when implementing this approach. Finally, Cunningham covers an issue that has rarely been addressed in academic literature: the integration of playfulness and laughter in humanitarian responses through artistic and interactive interventions targeting children. The conclusion to this volume discusses the key issues which emerged from all of the chapters and provide concrete solutions and suggestions to move forward.