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Culturelink review, no.33/April 2001 - contents - imprint - archive

Towards A Constructive Pluralism

Report, CLT-2000/WS/15
Paris, UNESCO, 2000, 52 pp.

The idea behind the colloquium entitled Towards A Constructive Pluralism was to address the theme of cultural pluralism and its implications for inter- and intra-societal relations. The purpose was to consider the nature of pluralism and the role of the state and civil society in preventing pluralism from becoming divisive, and assisting the building of a positive and constructive pluralism for the future.

The report is divided into two parts. The first contains official documents approved by UNESCO and the Commonwealth Secretariat and written for the colloquium either by the participants or in the name of the two institutions. The second part, an initiative of the Division of Cultural Pluralism of UNESCO, represents a synthesis of the main ideas mentioned by the participants in the papers they submitted or expressed in the course of the debates.

The participants affirmed that ethnic, religious, cultural and other pluralism is a positive phenomenon, to be welcomed and celebrated. There was an agreement that everything possible should be done to create conditions in which it can flourish within and between states. At the same time, it was recognised that differences can be used to promote division and tension. It was argued that 'divisive pluralism' would constitute one of the key threats to peace in the twenty-first century unless appropriate action was taken.

The colloquium also recognised that approaches to this issue need to take account of the significant changes that have taken and are taking place in the world. In particular, it highlighted the dual forces of globalisation and fragmentation and the fact that the world is becoming increasingly homogeneous at a global level but more and more heterogeneous locally. This has important implications for attempts to accommodate the complexities and to meet the challenges of pluralism. In this context, the participants agreed on the importance of appreciating our common humanity and the shared and universal values that this entails. The recognition of difference can strengthen unity by allowing individuals to enjoy the security of particular identities within an accepted social and constitutional framework./p>

The colloquium recognised the need to balance the affirmation of particular identities and the requirements of an increasingly inter-dependent world in which we all have to co-exist and co-operate. Identities can be mobilised or exploited for either negative or positive purposes. Finding ways to encourage the positive uses of identity is important for all countries, developed and developing, whether they are involved in conflict or are enjoying a measure of peace. This issue is relevant to everyone, as all countries are vulnerable to division.

The participants took a dynamic and positive view of ethnic, religious, cultural and other pluralism as an invitation to people to interact, to celebrate and to learn from difference, rather than a passive acceptance of the fact that pluralism simply exists. It was stressed that pluralism is enriching and that it can make an important contribution both to balanced development within particular countries and to the building of positive relationships between countries. The colloquium acknowledged that particular identities and society's means of dealing with cultural and other forms of difference involve arrangements and attitudes that can be made and unmade. Consequently, there is always a possibility of improvement and dynamic evolution, regardless of whether this involves building new forms of identity or working with existing ones. The colloquium also recognised that there are problems of terminology and vocabulary and that lack of clarity can impede understanding and the development of consensus.

Finally, it was recognised that greater clarity is needed regarding our understanding of the past and its relationship to the development of a constructive pluralism for the future.

For more information, please contact: UNESCO, Division of Cultural Pluralism, 1, rue Miollis - 75732 Paris Cedex 15, France, tel.: +33 1 45 68 43 03; fax: +33 1 45 68 55 97.