CULTURE, COMMUNITY, AND DEVELOPMENT: A Critical Interrelationship
Far too often, developmental trajectories of communities are explained predominately by reference to economic history, human capital deficits, and the structure of local labor markets. These discussions are usually connected to national or regional levels, with less being revealed about the identity and uniqueness of local level communities. Coupled with a relative lack of empirical research considering the role of local culture and expressions, the role of culture in shaping communities and their development is not fully considered. Scanning development analyses, the inclusion of culture is apparent, but not overwhelming in its representation (Ray, 1998; Johannesson et al., 2003; Panelli et al., 2003; Bayliss, 2004; Juska et ah, 2005; Brennan et al., 2007; Huggins & Thompson, 2015; Tubadji et ah, 2015; Hudec & Dzupka, 2016; Lvsgard, 2016; Fredin & Jogmark, 2017).
In this chapter, we suggest that despite the understudy of culture, it is an essential consideration for understanding local community development options, community actions, histories, identities, and citizen responses to a variety of conditions. We begin with an overview of definitions and understandings around culture in the context of community and development. Following this, we explore varying perceptions of culture, given societal changes. Finally, we look forward to a return of the importance of culture and its attributes in communities.
Community, Culture, and Development
The underappreciation and lack of recognition of local culture as a basis for development remains well documented. For example, from an economic-based development approach, the practice and research literature is rife with examples of how extra-local industry recruitment has become the norm in most settings. While examples to the contrary do exist, they are few and far between. In the end, the recruitment of a Walmart superstore, factory, prison, or other such entity has become the de facto practice, replacing locally owned small businesses and entrepreneurial efforts. Culture rarely, if ever, plays into this process. The same could be argued for social, political, and environmental efforts where the diversity, potentials, and possible obstacles of local culture are rarely given their due attention. To understand some of this dynamic, we provide the following exploration of culture, related research literature, and exploration of theoretical understandings.
Understanding and Defining Culture
In social settings culture is often used to represent entire ways of life, including rules, values, and expected behavior (Williams, 1970; Flora et al., 1992; Brennan et al., 2008; McGrath & Brennan, 2011; Tubadji et al., 2015). Culture can reflect either a homogenous environment where the characteristics of the few are presented, or a more heterogeneous structure bringing together the characteristics of a diverse locality. At its most basic level culture is understood as encompassing the shared products of a society (Park, 1950; Flora et al., 1992; Hoage & Moran, 1998; Brennan et al., 2008; McGrath & Brennan, 2011). Such products have a common meaning, reflect shared attachments among community members, and accumulate over time (Park, 1950; Williams, 1970; Salamon, 2003; Smith, 2015).
Culture consists of ideas, norms, and material dimensions (Sorokin, 1957; Williams, 1970; Flora et al., 1992; Hoage & Moran, 1998; Salamon, 2003; Brennan et al., 2008; McGrath & Brennan, 2011; Huggins & Thompson, 2015; Hudec & Dzupka, 2016). Ideas include the values, knowledge, and experiences held by a culture. Values are shared ideas and beliefs about what is morally right or wrong, or what is culturally desirable. Such values shape norms and rules (or accepted ways of doing things that represent guidelines for how people should conduct themselves and how they should act towards others), or what some refer to as social mores. As Luloff and Swanson (1995) note:
Culture frames value assumptions for individuals and communities about what is right and wrong and what ought to be, as well as notions on the means for achieving these values. Culture is not determined by socioeconomic structures, but rather interacts with these structures dialectically. Culture mediates individual and community perceptions about social conditions, and consequently influences both the perception of and reasoning process involved in making choices.
Values and norms are often taken for granted and assumed to reflect a common understanding. Both, however, have direct origins and develop in response to conflicts or needs. At their core is a process of interaction. This process shapes the actions of individuals and social systems. As Williams noted, values and norms are “never wholly divorced from the actual conditions of human interaction from which they emerge” (Williams, 1970, p. 29). Culture is a living thing and consists of elements of the past, outside influences, and new locally developed elements.
We provide the above definitions as explanations of culture. These are by no means complete as many fields see this entity differently, as do they see its role in shaping reactions or explanations of social interventions. We understand that the above definitions and discussions of culture may be in a general context. This is deliberate. Culture is a condition that can vary from nation to nation, city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood, and beyond even in the smallest localities (culture determined by race, religion, ethnicity). That said, the definitions we provide represent a wide range of the commonly accepted definitions of this rich and complex entity. Our definitions are a starting point. Through this chapter, we seek to better understand and integrate other ideas, concepts, and best practices that can be used as the basis of fostering and facilitating local development.
Differences between regions and localities are often largely cultural (Williams, 1970; Dove, 1988; Hoage & Moran, 1998; Ray, 2001). Community development practitioners need to consider the importance of culture in efforts to improve local well-being. By paying attention to, and incorporating cultural values, traditions, and related factors in community development strategies, more efficient and effective development efforts can be achieved (Dove, 1988; Ramsay, 1996; Phillips, 2004). Arts and culture can serve as powerful factors addressing social and economic needs of society (Markusen & Schrock, 2006; Foster, 2009; Zukin, 2010); and can be an attractive approach to community development, far beyond the aesthetic appeal of it (Aquino et al., 2013). Arts and culture can be part of creative placemaking strategies and plans, helping “address issues that prevent communities from being better places to live, work, and visit” (Vazquez, 2015, p. 307). Culturally sensitive and appropriate development can help address a range of Issues while shaping and molding communities for the betterment of all. Indigenous community development, for example, seeks to empower residents while establishing culturally responsive and culturally viable development and planning, with values-based approaches.
Local understandings and interpretations of a community’s history reflect past events feeding into, and partially driven by, the demands, sentiments, and interests of those in the present. Indeed, local culture has both backward and forward looking dimensions with implications for local opportunities (Massey, 1994; Brennan et ah, 2008; McGrath & Brennan, 2011).
Local societies also consist of unique social groups or fields which have their own distinct cultures.
In some ways, this connection to the past is oftentimes very evident. For example, the role of culture and the arts in community development is long- lived, with loots tracing back to the City Beautiful Movement of the late 1890s. At the height of its popularity, this movement was known for integrating public art, public parks and other spaces, and beautiful architecture for public buildings. When the era of the City Beautiful Movement ended, the willingness to incorporate public art was practically lost until the resurgence of interest almost a hundred years later; this time, the interest in the arts exceeds a physical dimension of structures - it also includes recognition of the social and cultural impacts on community (Phillips, 2004). The idea of culture is sometimes subsumed in the term “cultural resources,” with its contributions to community development including image modification so as to reposition places in the mental maps of external investors; cultural tourism development for increased consumer services; and increasing capacity for endogenous development (Williams et al., 1995, p. 73).
Local culture provides a sense of identity for communities and their residents. This identity provides a basis for common understandings, traditions, and values — each of which is central to taking action for improving wellbeing (Williams, 1970; Ramsay, 1996; Ray, 2001; Schmidt et al., 2002; Binder & Baker, 2017). Culture contributes to building a sense of local identity and solidarity. It influences the confidence of community members to come together to address specific needs and problems (Wilkinson, 1991; Luloff & Swanson, 1995; Bridger & Luloff, 1999; Schmidt et al., 2002; Brennan, et al., 2005; McGrath & Brennan, 2011). Local commitment among residents based on culture and common identity, regardless of economic or political conditions, serves as a valuable tool in shaping the effectiveness of development options and local actions (Wilkinson, 1991; Ramsay, 1996; Bridger & Luloff, 1999; Cawley & Gillmor, 2016).
Providing a local linkage and cultural basis for development is essential (Dove, 1988; Hoage & Moran, 1998; Ray, 2001; Salamon, 2003; Tubadji et al., 2015). People are likely to take part in and remain committed to development efforts to which they are directly connected (Dove, 1988). Development efforts considering or focusing on culture provide a mechanism for linking local residents to the development process. Through such efforts, local residents can encourage development which preserves and/or promotes their culture. Alternatively, where development is inhibited, creating an appreciation of cultural factors can help identify means for addressing these barriers and considering culturally sensitive alternatives. This is particularly important in efforts seeking local participation, voluntarism, and community action (Hoage & Moran, 1998). The social basis of culture, its relationship to interaction, and the types of development and local actions it contributes to are each central aspects of the role of culture in the development process.
Culture is a motivating factor in the creation of social identity and serves as a basis for creating cohesion and solidarity. Solidarity is often seen as the central element for uniting and motivating communities (Sorokin, 1957; Williams, 1970; Durkheim, 1984; Bhattacharyya, 1995; Schmidt et ah, 2002; Salamon, 2003; Smith, 2015). Solidarity reflects a shared identity, expected conduct, and commitment to community (Bhattacharyya, 1995; Huggins & Thompson, 2015). It also reflects the extent to which communities come together and offer members a sense of belonging. A commitment to common ideals and beliefs emerges through interactions cutting across different perspectives within a community (Wilkinson, 1991).