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Seeing Culture Everywhere

September 13, 2010

I’ve been reading Breidenbach and Nyri’s Seeing Culture Everywhere.  This is a pretty uncompromising assault on the way that the contemporary world uses the concept of ‘cultures’ to explain difference.  Breidenbach and Nyri take on The Clash of Civilizations, cultural theories of violence, multiculturalism, ‘indigenous cultures’ and ‘cultural competences’

The core of the argument is that the language of cultures lumps groups of people together eliminating differences among them  and reinforcing barriers between groups.  They also make the point that externally imposed cultural categories can provide the starting point for the construction of groups.  These groups can then empower some people and disempower others.  As anthropologists the authors favour the use of ethnographic methods in order to detect difference and change and reject the assumption that ‘culture’ can somehow provide a way of mapping a ‘society’ while ignoring politics, power, money, strategy etc.

The take away for public diplomacy is that the way that the categories that we use to make sense of the world play a role in creating that world. How to label things is a delicate political task.

Breidenbach, J., and P. Nyiri (2009) Seeing Culture Everywhere, from Genocide to Consumer Habits. Seattle, WA.: University of Washington Press.

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