Discussion: Culture and Globalisation

April 11, 2014

At the Imagine Change! forum on the theme “Culture and Globalisation,” it was noted that it is more objective to use the plural form when talking about Bhutanese cultures. Standardizing and creating a single “Bhutanese national culture” was seen as even disastrous for cultural diversity in the regions. Moreover, interpreting culture to be synonymous with religious practices might have alienated especially young people from their cultures.

Much of the group discussions revolved around the traditional dress in Bhutan. The arguments for wearing the traditional dress were about pride, preserving a part of cultural heritage in terms of dressing or making a conscientious choice to wear gho/kira to support the local economy instead of succumbing to the global influences and making the big corporations even richer. The arguments against wearing the national dress were about convenience and modernity.

The lack of clear language policy in Bhutan, and the confusion following from that on which language to use at school/home/workplace was raised by several participants. It would be important to clarify which languages we are to aim at speaking fluently in the next years – for example for media, it is not financially feasible to include obligatory Dzongkha sections only to fulfill the requirements.

Lack of community vitality in urban areas was pointed out as a major constraint for cultural engagement. For example in Thimphu there are almost no cultural avenues. How to adapt former rural cultures in urban settings? Some examples on how to promote culture in urban areas were given by youth participants, for example greeting neighbours and interacting with strangers.

Commercialization of culture was a concern raised by some youth participants. However, it was pointed out that rural villages need to have some economic gain from performing their festivals, because the economic context has changed from the past. As long as they respect the meaning of the sacred dances, not staging or acting something for the tourists, but use it as a way to sustain these practices, it is not bad to generate revenue out of cultural practices.

Incorporating Bhutanese tradition in hospitality training, and not only focusing on foreign ways to serve guests was raised by student participants. It was noted that houseladies in the countryside are very good at genuine, traditional Bhutanese hospitality, something that could also be learnt from and incorporated by trainees in the tourism institutes.

Finding the right balance between modernity and tradition was raised during the concluding remarks.  For example, it is necessary to balance some traditional values, like humility with modern ways, such as critical thinking, for Bhutan to progress in the right direction.

Some key points made at the forum were:

  • Culture shapes our collective and individual social behaviour and collective identities.
  • Anthropologists see more failures than successes in development because: 1) development is usually very economic-centric; it is divided into sectors, although people do not live their lives in sectors; 2) culture in development is often either neglected or almost romanticized; and 3) development projects are overall undermined by the lack of understanding of complex social and cultural realities.
  • Some of the negative effects of globalization are cultural erosion, lack of cultural identity, and demise of languages. On the positive note, globalization has enabled a greater instantaneous flow and exchange of information, travel, access to commodified services, and common cultural forms connecting us across borders.
  • Bhutan’s approach to development is innovative in giving equal weight for culture in development, culture being one of the four pillars of GNH.
  • Culture is often misconceived as being about material objects, or something belonging only to the past. In fact, culture is more about the inner ways of looking at the world, attitudes, values and morals – meaning – that inform our outer behaviour. Cultural symbols manifest this internal mindset through verbal speech, physical action, or material representations such as art, architecture or textiles.

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