Cultural Diversity

The definition of culture has long been a controversy and the term is used in a variety of ways. One commonly used definition is:

"[Culture] is that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, laws, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [a human] as a member of society."

The term sub-culture is used to refer to minority cultures within a larger dominant culture.

Cross-border population flows, such as migration, lead to increased diversity within societies. This diversity often refers to the co-existence of a difference in behaviour, traditions and customs -in short, a diversity of cultures. UNESCO's governing body, the General Conference, adopted the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity [PDF, 789 KB] in 2001. The Declaration, the first of its kind within the international community, elevates cultural diversity to the rank of common heritage of humanity

  • Firstly, the Declaration promotes the principle that "[c]ulture takes diverse forms across time and space. This diversity is embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies making up humankind. As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature. In this sense, it is the common heritage of humanity and should be recognized and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations." (Article 1)
  • Secondly, the Declaration emphasises the understanding of moving from cultural diversity to cultural pluralism. "In our increasingly diverse societies, it is essential to ensure harmonious interaction among people and groups with plural, varied and dynamic cultural identities as well as their willingness to live together. Policies for the inclusion and participation of all citizens are guarantees of social cohesion, the vitality of civil society and peace. Thus defined, cultural pluralism gives policy expression to the reality of cultural diversity. Indissociable from a democratic framework, cultural pluralism is conducive to cultural exchange and to the flourishing of creative capacities that sustain public life." (Article 2)
  • Thirdly, the Declaration delineates cultural diversity as a factor in development. "Cultural diversity widens the range of options open to everyone; it is one of the roots of development, understood not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence." (Article 3)
  • Finally, cultural diversity presupposes the respect for human rights. "The defence of cultural diversity is an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity. It implies a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the rights of persons belonging to minorities and those of indigenous peoples. No one may invoke cultural diversity to infringe upon human rights guaranteed by international law, nor to limit their scope." (Article 4)

1 Tylor, E. in Seymour-Smith, C. (1986) Macmillan Dictonary of Anthropology. The Macmillan Press LTD.

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