Smiling Babies, a Space for Cultural Creativity, and Sustainable Development

Mr. Steven Sigler
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Sustainable development is perhaps one of those items that Kafka was referring to when he cautioned that some things can only be achieved by a deliberate leap in the opposite direction. This is especially true for international aid and development organizations which are in the business of changing ways of life and, relatively recently, endeavoring to preserve them as they do so. In order to achieve both objectives, civil society has become regarded as a portal into developing countries and countries-in-transition for international assistance. However, civil society is large in scope and there may be a point of entry into it, one that holds great potential for successfully obtaining sustainable development while also minimizing disruption to a society’s culture, that is often neglected by policy makers and practitioners.

In search of that point of entry, this paper engages in an analysis of two contemporary views of civil society which might be termed ‘civil society as voluntary and political’ and ‘civil society as elemental and pre-political’. The purpose of this analysis is not to uphold one view over the other, but rather to determine where the two views connect and how they merge; for it is this paper’s contention that that social space of merger with its “anchored relations” (Goffman, 1971, p. 189) and “informal association” (Hann, 1996, p. 15) is a crucial setting for peaceful societal change because it provides a needed sense of societal continuity in times of transition.

This social space, which is referred to here as a space for cultural creativity, is where individuals who have made “new” discoveries are in a position to creatively adapt, diffuse, and replicate those discoveries through their interplay inside existing social structures, personal communication networks, and individual communicative actions and thus instill in those discoveries the potential to become, to borrow a phrase from Gramsci (1981), “the basis of vital action, an element of co-ordination and intellectual and moral order” (p. 206).

In searching for this social space, the biological link to civil society is explored through a discussion of the purpose and effect of the infant’s social smile and its part in the establishment of kinship and the social trust necessary for the construction of society. Further, kinship is considered and its links to friendship and relationship are analyzed to determine their roles in constructing the boundaries of civil society and launching the ties that bind it together. The nature of these ties is then discussed in relation to the creation and maintenance of social networks. Finally, from this discussion a social space is identified as the most conducive for the development and communication of sustainable solutions to environmental challenges. For it is development that originates from this space that will have feelings of obligation attached to it that are founded in something that is stronger and more powerful than those that come from the rule-of-law with the result of making that development inherently more sustainable than it might otherwise be.
In conclusion the paper argues that civil society as elemental and pre-political, which finds its basis and strength in primeval kinship, is where cultural creativity finds a natural tolerance rooted in multistranded and sentimental ties that may allow it to survive and become potential with which to reconstruct a society. On the other hand, civil society as voluntary and political with its basis and strength in formal association centered on shared interest and collaboration is where cultural creativity can alter cultural boundaries and actually achieve that end. The former exists naturally; the latter develops out of the former; and it is in that space in between where change is tempered with continuity, the determined becomes the self-determined, and smiling babies begin to create sustainable societies.

Hann, C. (1996). Introduction: Political society and civil anthropology. In C. Hann & E. Dunn (Eds.), Civil society: Challenging western models (pp. 1 – 26). London: Routledge.

Goffman, I. (1971). Relations in public: Microstudies of the public order. New
York: Basic Books.

Gramsci, A. (1981). Antonio Gramsci. In T. Bennet, G. Martin, C. Mercer, & J. Woollacott (Eds.), Culture, Ideology and Social Process (pp. 191-218). London: Batsford Academic and Educational Ltd. and Open University Press.

Keywords: Civil Society, Sustainability Development, International aid, Culture
Stream: Cultural Sustainability
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Mr. Steven Sigler

Post Graduate Research Student, Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Murdoch University

Ref: S06P0065