UNDP – United Nations Development Programme – 2004 Human Development Report
The Human Develop Report 2004, Cultural Liberty in Today’s World details the challenges policy makers and governments face in building culturally diverse societies. The underlying premise of the report is that every member of society is entitled to pursue full, individual, cultural and creative lives. The report underscores the importance of “allowing people to lead the kind of life they choose – and providing
Importantly the report recognises that there are “no easy – or one size fits all – rules for how to best build working multicultural societies,” but it does provide essential lessons from around the world that policy makers should consider in drafting and implementing cultural and creative policy. It calls for political and cultural changes to bring “issues of culture to the mainstream of development thinking and practice.”
By debunking five core assumptions of current cultural policy thinking the UNDP report argues that policy initiatives that promote cultural diversity will “not result in fragmentation, conflict, weak development or authoritarian rule.” Multicultural policies can dissipate ethnic and social tension.
The report argues for accommodating cultural groups instead of undertaking initiatives to eliminate them. This is based on findings that indicate that individuals now have “multiple identities that are complementary.” Integration now depends on providing choices for assimilation instead of forced assimilation with no choice.
Secondly ethnic groups are not prone to violent conflict over religious or cultural values. The report found no empirical evidence that indicated a “clash of values” as
the main driver in recent conflicts. The report does warn of the dangers of allowing “economic and political inequality to deepen (between ethnic groups) because cultural groups are easily mobilised to contest these disparities as injustice.”
On the issue of defending traditional culture versus progress in democracy and economic development the report emphasises, “Cultural liberty is about expanding individual choices, not about preserving values and practices as an end in itself with blind allegiance to tradition.” It argues that freedom is the “capability of people to live and be what they choose” with an equal opportunity and a policy framework that permits individuals to pursue and consider other options.
Addressing the inability of ethnically diverse countries to achieve economic and social development versus the option of promoting multiculturalism over development or vice versa the report found there was no link. There are international examples of very diverse countries achieving internationally recognised levels of development as there are examples of ethnically diverse societies that have made little progress towards international development goals. The report points to ineffective political bodies as the culprit not ethnic diversity.
Finally, the idea that some cultures are predestined or presupposed to achieve developmental progress better than others also has no basis in evidence. The main problem with these theories states the report is “the underlying assumption that culture is largely fixed and unchanging, allowing the world to be neatly divided into “civilisations” or “cultures.” All societies have shifted and borrowed from other cultures throughout history, says the report, therefore these false assumptions it warned can fuel dangerous nationalistic arguments and divisions.
The UNDP therefore takes a position of promoting cultural liberty and creating policy frameworks that explicitly state the importance and role of cultural diversity. Policy based on cultural diversity, openness to differing values, personal choices and cultural borrowing are more likely to succeed in today’s world. (Appendix 19)