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Culture, Identity and Youth Partitipation

Culture in General

'Culture' is difficult to define but an easily understood and important concept in international affairs. At the basic level culture is 'the human made part of the environment' which can be communicated, and which provides the patterns, meanings and knowledge of human activity socially and in relation to the world (See Hudson 1997b, pp2-4 for some further definitions). Part of the problem with culture is that it is so inclusive that it is hard to know what to exclude (Hudson 197b, p2), and therefore it is very hard to 'operationalise' the concept and make exact behavioural experiments about it. It tends to be a fuzzy concept that is hard to usefully define.

Rather than try to cover all the meanings of 'culture', we can start this discussion by briefly outlining three areas where culture is often found useful in discussing international affairs. They are the related areas of political, strategic and organisational cultures, suggesting that different societies may structure these three areas of human activity in different ways.

A technical definition of political culture can be given: 'Political culture is all of the discourses, values, and implicit rules that express and shape political action and intentions, determine the claims groups may and may not make upon one another, and ultimately provide a logic of political action' (Hudson 1977b, p10). However, as Valerie Hudson has noted, this is very hard to distinguish from general notions of culture (Hudson 1997b, p10), since politics is deeply concerned about power and human relationships.

There is no denying that leaders can often be empowered when they seem to embody or symbolise deeply help cultural beliefs of a nation (Hudson 1997b, p13). Numerous individuals or groups have staked a place on the world stage through linking cultural aspirations with political action, e.g. the desire for a 'proper place under heaven' in modern China, on which Deng Xiaoping based many of his policies, the current aspirations of India to be recognised as an advanced technological power, France's claim to be both a cultural and military power (under several Presidents including President Chirac), the aspirations for German unification which became a major features of former Chancellor Kohl's leadership from 1989, were all based in part on cultural claims. Strategic culture overlaps with many of the features of political culture. Strategic culture essentially concerns the methods nations and other groups choose to achieve their goals, and the cultural factors which affect the way they seek cooperation or competition in the international scene. As you saw last week, several thinkers have argued that China tends to have a very strong strategic tradition which influences political activity, foreign affairs and defence activities (see Fairbanks & Kierman 1974; Zhang & Yao 1996; Dellios 1994; Dellios 1997; Ferguson 1998a). From this perspective, in times of warfare or intense conflict, certain cultural trends may be intensified, and become even more important than otherwise.

Organisation culture refers to typical ways societies structure power relations in institutions, organise groups to achieve goals, and promote economic activities. Patterns of leadership, manager-worker relations, styles of cooperation and conflict, patterns of openness and secrecy, can be affected by broader cultural conceptions. Unique patterns of organisation culture, and the relationship between political and economic systems, can be detected in Carthaginian, Roman, Islamic, Chinese, Malay and Japanese culture (in general see Nathan 1993a; Nathan 1993b Chen 1992; Ferguson 1998b), though all these cultures have also been able to adapt to chanced circumstances. The ability to build viable and strong institutions which can carry out their tasks and even adapt their roles has been a major feature of the American and European traditions, while others would see distinctive advantages in American, Japanese and Chinese business organisations.

The overlapping of these three areas, however, suggests that 'culture' often has a very broad, background affect on behaviours and institutions, and does not determine all aspects of its legal or economic operations. Instead of looking at these three concepts separately, we will look at how culture is used in international affairs, using a wide range of examples.

The Pervasive Influence of World-View

Culture is likely to be important in influencing values, world-views, and the structure of human relationships. In general, 'culture tells us what to want, to prefer, to desire, and thus to value.' (Hudson 1997b, p8). The way culture can affect attitudes and social relations has already been verified in a wide range of areas, including varying patterns of individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, power distance and cultural complexity. (Hudson 1997b, p8). In summary, cultural variables can be shown to affect a wide range of social, political and business behaviours. However, it is less clear whether a particular culture in general can ever be used to predict an individual response, the way a government may act in a particular case, or the outcome of a specific negotiation. Furthermore, individuals may utilise chunks of culturally acknowledged behaviour to meet their own ends, often in an individual or creative way (Hudson 1997b, p9). Culture and knowledge systems can also be competitive and contested; they can empower some and exclude others. There is thus ‘a darker side to knowledge: the fear of failing to master it, of being excluded from it, of becoming its object’ (Hobart 1995, p49).

We can, of course, look at the way that culture influences the decisions of leaders and restricts government action through popular pressure. Culture is certainly an important element which affects foreign policy. However, at a deeper level, we can also argue that international relations in its broadest sense is itself the product of the interaction of different cultures. In this sense, international affairs is also an intellectual and cultural phenomenon, 'of which changing ideas of war and peace are important aspects' (Iriye 1997, pix). Just as to some extent national communities must be 'imagined' and created (Iriye 1997, p16, following Anderson 1983), so too international relations can be imagined and re-invented. Akira Iriye would argue that 'the internationalist imagination has exerted a significant influence in modern world history' (Iriye 1997, p16), e.g. the vision needed to create the League of Nations and the United Nations, as well as to create hundreds of diverse international organisations (IGOs, International Government Organisations and IGNOs, International Non-Government Organisations, which perform diverse international roles).

There is another crucial way in which culture shapes international affairs. The culture itself has to acknowledge that there is some sort of 'world-system' or world society, and to support the idea of reaching out into this broader world. Different societies took very different views on how models of this world should be constructed. China, in the imperial past, developed a system of Asian international relations based on the tribute system, with a core civilised area, surrounded by frontier states linked by tribute, then a more distant 'wild' region. In traditional Western Christendom, a community of Christian nations was envisaged as the basis real community and international law - only later on would non-Europe nations be recognized as fit to join this club or be accepted as part of this 'civilised' community (Iriye 1997, p20). In Islam there was a recognition of a zone of peace, the Dar al Islam surrounded by a potentially hostile Dar al-Harb, the zone of war. Both Christianity and Islam had certain universal tendencies, trying to reach out to all of mankind. In the modern period, with the end of most European Empires, the state system first developed in 17th century Europe was extended to virtually all of the planet, as the world was carved up by borders based on some over 184 nation states. There has been a rapid expansion of states as some Federal states, e.g. Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, fragmented into a number of smaller entities, many of which demonstrate serious problems in the viability of the state system (see Huntington 1996, p33-36).

This state system has become dominant in the last one hundred years, but is also challenged by the needs of states, cultures, economies and civilisations to interact. What is paradoxical is that at the same time as the state system has strengthened, so too has the need to interact internationally, thereby supporting trends towards internationalism. We can sample this by a glimpse at some international organisations and related developments.­

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