CULTURAL IDENTIDY



The transition between the classical idea of development and the models directed towards the social and cultural aspects requires attention to local realities pertaining to where development projects and policies are to be implemented. Considered no longer as passive recipients of something imposed on them, but as authors of their own processes, it is important to ask: who are these people? What is it that they have in common as a group, as a community? What are their values, needs, aspirations? As we ask these questions, we are asking what is the group’s collective or cultural identity , i.e., the dynamic principle behind a certain culture which allows them to see themselves as a collectivity.

When we insert the theme of cultural identity in the current scenario of accelerated social change, we see the difficulty of maintaining a unique and homogeneous concept. Every territory that in the past has provided us with solid references defining ourselves as social individuals – such as social class, gender, sexuality, ethnic group, race, nationality – is being fragmented today, shaking the individuals from their identifying axle and preventing them to maintain an integrated and global image of themselves.
According to authors such as Stuart Hall , we cannot conceive ourselves anymore as "subjects of illuminism", i.e., individuals who from birth have an identity that is ours for life. This identity would be like an inner center endowed with reason that would remain the same throughout existence, allowing the individual to have a fixed sense of him/herself.

The growing complexity of the modern world, associated with the new researches in social sciences, have been decisive to put in check such model, giving way to the understanding that the structuring of the central nucleus is neither autonomous nor self-sufficient in itself, but it is formed through the relationship with others, who act as cultural mediators. Identity is seen as an alignment between our subjective feelings and the objective places we occupy in our culture. Such conception of identity appears to be perfectly consonant with the idea of development in an endogenous or local perspective, since it allows for the use of the collective as a focus, understanding that if development is a self-transformation process, it is the cultural identity that allows the group to decide what it wants to transform itself into, thus clearly affirming its condition of social ator.

The challenge imposed by current globalization to cultural models falls directly in the identity organizing nucleus, that even sociological approaches insist in maintaining. For if traditional references are fragmented, revealing their unnatural and ephemeral character, how can stable identities be built? Furthermore, if we identify with "fragments", what is the assurance that such identifications are congruent among themselves, conferring a measure of unity to the identity? Authors like Hall and Canclini tell us that this identity center is illusory and that we only feel it as real because we built ourselves a comfortable self-description. In truth, inasmuch as representation and signification systems multiply, we are confronted with a disturbing diversity of possible identities.

Therefore, cultural identity is not a solid pattern that will give us a sense of belonging – to a culture or a nation – but a mobile configuration continuously formed and transformed in the different forms through which we are represented in the various social systems surrounding us. We may therefore conceptualize it as trans-territorial and multi-linguistic.

"The [cultural] identity is perceived as a shattered repertoire of mini-roles, instead of as a nucleus of a hypothetical sense of self."

The contemporary globalized society, in conceiving nations as cultural hybrids, brings a new configuration to cultural identities, where the strongest link seems to be the local one – easily perceived in the multiplicity of minority groups or community associations – which, ultimately, may indicate the fading of the idea of nation and nationality. Separated from their original territoriality and temporality, contemporary identities seem to "float freely".

The tension between the global – the movement that involves crossing borders and engaging in trans-national integration – and the local – characteristic of new collective bonds – opens up a privileged space to redefine the new meaning of cultural identity. If we consider the
Latin American hibrid Cultures , it is only in the coexistence of tradition and modernity that any development project may be successful. Which brings us to the next challenge: How to preserve cultural identities and therefore cultural diversity without falling prey to a xenophobic and ultraconservative posture?

We may also insert this issue in the game between tradition and translation, in the sense – still utopic– given by Stuart Hall to cultural identity:

"the identity-building processes that cross natural borders are led by people who maintain (...) strong bonds with their birthplaces and their original traditions, without deluding themselves about a possible return to the past. They carry with them the culture, traditions, language and personal history that left strong impressions on them. The difference is that they are not and never will be unified in the ancient sense, because they are, irrevocably, the product of many interconnected histories and cultures." (Hall, 2000, p. 89).

These people who belong to hybrid cultures, who are still learning to translate and negotiate between different cultural habitats and who seem to represent a new type of cultural identity, may be capable of producing a decentralization (still slow and gradual) of Western culture.

NOTES:

1) "HALL, Stuart. A identidade cultural na pós modernidade, 4.ed.. rio de janeiro: DP&A, 2000. (HALL, Stuart. The question of cultural identity. In: HALL, S, HELD, D. McGREW, T. Modernity and its futures. Cambridge: Polity Press / Open University Press, 1992)."
2) "BANSART, A., Cultura, ambiente, desarrollo. Caracas, Universitdad Simon Bolivar/Instituto de Altos Estudos de America Latina, 1992."

3) "CANCLINI, Nestor Garcia. Culturas híbridas: estratégias para sair e entrar da Modernidade. São Paulo: Edusp, 1998."
4) "D'ÁVILA NETO, M.I. Os 'novos' pobres e o contrato social: receitas de desenvolvimento, igualdade e solidariedade, seus mitos, laços e utopias. Arquivos Brasileiros de Psicologia, n. 8, out.-dez. 1998, Rio de Janeiro, Imago."