Does Culture Matter?

Did you know that Tuft’s Fletcher School opened a Cultural Change Institute in April? This is the product of Fletcher’s ‘Cultural Matters’ symposium which looks at the effect of culture on development and democracy.

‘With funding in place from the Smith Richardson Foundation, the CCI is looking to explore further case studies beyond those highlighted in the Culture Matters Research Project, including the successes of Barbados, Costa Rica, Jordan, Mauritius, Malaysia, Slovenia, Uruguay, and Vietnam. They also plan to examine the role of culture in the cases of India’s disparate economic development, Poland’s “limited tolerance for public debate,” and the acculturation of Mexican immigrants in the United States. In addition, the CCI will undertake studies of instruments and institutions of cultural change—most notably, religion and entertainment media—and launch pilot projects on value-based child-rearing practices, educational reforms, and attitude surveys.’

Hmm… I’m attracted and repulsed at the same time. This could easily turn into soft touch ‘everything-is-acceptable-in-your-culture’ liberalism or ‘here-is-scientific-proof-of-what-you-are-and-how-you’re-deficient’ old school anthropology turn social theory. However, I believe it provides useful tools for accessing what can be so inaccessible when people talk about leveraging social capital to further development or foster homegrown democracy. The lead professor is Lawrence Harrison. He states that his research interests are: ‘Cultural values: how they affect political, economic, and social development; how they are transmitted; how they relate to policies, institutions, and economic development; how they change.’

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