Intergenerational transmission of values and cultural sustainability: the cultural participation of local, small town communities in Poland.

Author:Poprawski, Marcin
Position::Special Issue: Cultural Economies and Cultural Activism
 
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  1. Introduction.

    This article will begin with an exploration of the concept of sustainability. It will then move onto a series of critical reflections on a research project that investigated cultural participation in small urban communities in Poland, with a particular concern for the way it identified an unexpected dimension of significance--the intergenerational transmission of cultural values and skills. In doing this, I wish to underline the significance of intergenerational transmission for our concept of sustainability, and by implication argue that sustainability is beneficially implemented through culture.

    The inspiration for this article emerged through the authors' participation in an international, interdisciplinary conference 'Culture in Sustainable Futures', held in Helsinki in May 2014, and organized by University of Jyvaskyla. The experience of hearing about the widest possible spectrum of topics on culture and sustainability, with over fifty topic-based papers each sharing observations on cultural sectors and sustainable futures, and from the broadest range of international, professional, academic, multidisciplinary perspectives, was indeed invigorating. And yet my two topics above were rather absent.

    This observation raises several questions: are we not too selective (or even unsure) in our understanding of the "environmental" framing of arts and culture, or more generally unsure on how we understand the interrelation of arts and culture within environment ecology? It may be, that our theoretical efforts are worthless if, with all our work on understanding sustainability in culture, we only attend to broad conceptual frameworks and global growth issues, but not attend to the individual, the local, the existential, grass-roots, and the community dimensions of the ecology of culture--in other words, the integrated reality of human, social and environmental ecology. And moreover, how is this intimately bound up with the fact of generational difference and the socio-demographic diversity of subsequent trans- and cross-generational transmission of cultural values, cultural content, skills and competencies? While cultural policy often uses categories pertaining to age--all too often derived from marketing segmentation (children, youth, the elderly, for example). The productive cultural dynamics of generational differences themselves (and the implication of this for memory, cultural education and literacy, knowledge, skills and participation) is so often ignored in cultural policy on all levels.

    I argue that we therefore require a granular attention to the pragmatic and specific place-based issues where the dynamics of culture emerge and impact on social life, and consequently are bound up with our theoretical discourse of sustainability or sustainable growth and cultural development. One of the related purposes of this paper is to highlight and exemplify a crucial aspect of the intergenerational transmission of cultural values within culture and development issues, and this aspect is related to the Creative Economy Report 2013 Special Edition (UNDPD/UNESCO 2013). I attempt to carry this through the empirical substrate of this article, and through my reflections on an investigation conducted by four different research projects completed in Poland (by a group of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan scholars under supervision of the author: Poprawski and Makarski 2013, Poprawski and Firych 2014). With reference to the Creative, Economy, Report, our attention was directed by the significance of place-based cultural participation, cultural education, cultural developmental policies, and so drawn in our empirical research to culturally-active senior citizens, and senior leadership in cultural sector organizations--all contextualised by these small social communities, each having experienced post-communist transformation.

    The structure of this article is a logical sequence of items. It opens with a description of essential conceptual components of our broad subject--culture and sustainable development--then by way of discussion on the limitations of the dominant understanding of these concepts and notions, I will generate a background framework for my reflections on the cited research projects. An account of the projects will be brief, but will serve to emphasise the significance of our subject, for Poland as a country in the process of multidimensional transition, and across Eastern Europe. This is indeed prefaced by a short explanation of the methods used to collect the data, and the way I formulated notions on the most convincing future scenarios that will provide the conditions for any policy thinking on culture and sustainability, particularly in relation to small communities and intergenerational dialogue. I will only be setting out the broad conclusions by way of discussing the research, after which I conclude by way of a set of recommendations for local communities and decision makers in engaging with cultural sector, urban cultural development and social policies dealing with intergenerational transmission of cultural values and skills. I end with a dilemma: who is the change agent, or development agent, within local cultural policies for sustainable development?

  2. Culture and sustainability relation in terms and concepts.

    The complexity of the issues embedded in the relation between culture and sustainability or culture and sustainable development, is epitomised by the title of a recent report: "Culture in, for and as Sustainable Development" (Dessein, Soini, et al. 2015). This publication is an output of an interdisciplinary, international research cooperation, and the result of a four year journey through a vast repertoire of academic papers, policy scripts and strategies. This network of scholars identified three essential dimensions for an investigation of our pair of terms: particularly in their iteration in successive policy documents. The first dimension, (i) denotes the role of culture when situated in a sustainable development framework: 'culture in sustainable development'. Culture can provide supportive and self-promoting tools for a range of sustainability issues and programs, and can add a notional fourth pillar to the existing, conventional, three pillar structure of the UN sustainable development discourse: social, economic and environmental. In this role, culture is said to possess key intrinsic values--creativity, a diversity of (cultural) expressions, and artistic activities as mechanisms of growth within human development. The second dimension, (ii) is 'culture for sustainable development', in which the role of culture is to frame, contextualize and mediate, and so balance all three existing economic, social and ecological pillars, guiding sustainabilities actions through its terrain of challenges and pressures. The third dimension, (iii) is 'culture as sustainable development', where culture possesses an essential function: it provides the structure and set of aims for sustainable development as a project. It integrates and coordinates all actions within the concept and practices it generates; as mentioned in the report: 'by recognising that culture is at the root of all human decisions and actions and an overarching concern (even a new paradigm) in sustainable development thinking, culture and sustainability become mutually intertwined, and the distinctions between the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability begin to fade' (Dessein, Soini et al. 2015, p. 29).

    This basic tripartite scheme can serve to position the approaches to culture and sustainability, taking into account a vast range of policy documents and over 108,000 peer-reviewed papers published on, or related to, this subject. The report's analysis in turn reveals at least eight overlapping fields or competencies where culture and sustainability are internally related: "the negotiation of memories, identities and heritage; the relevance of place, landscape and territory; the complexities of social life...

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