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Futuring Cultural Dynamics

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 22, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program addresses the cultural dimensions of futuring in her seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Most policy decision-making models are based on demographic information that considers elements such as sex or ethnicity, as the staples of diversity. They aim to tell the story of particular population segments. However, over the last few decades, globalization and significant political shifts have driven substantial growth in population migration. From the turn of the century, the number of international migrants has increased by 70%.

The shift has boosted the stream of people’s interactions, coupled with their actions, perceptions, impressions, observations, and interpretations, across time, space, and scale. Ethnographic and cultural heritage experts identify this fluid stream of change with culture. They would argue that migratory impacts are most likely to span decades.

The aftermath of increased migration seems to raise questions about how cultures might evolve. Traditional demographic methods have difficulties in identifying the nuanced metamorphosis of population segments. As a result, policy-making appears to miss critical cultural developments that would otherwise pinpoint characteristics and needs of populations in flux.

By excluding cultural nuances in policy making, do we limit our choices for the future?

In The Art of Choice, Iyengar defines choice as “the ability to exercise control over ourselves and our environment. To choose, we must perceive that control is possible.”

She argues that the type of culture we grew up in influences our understanding of what choices are available to us. For example, as children, each of us heard some expectations about our future. Some of us were told to do what our family tells us to do, or others might have been asked what would you like to do? The former might tend to look up at their elders to show the path in life and protect them from selecting the wrong choices. The latter might be better off when exercising the personal option. The two approaches associate with collectivistic and individualistic community types, respectively.

Individualism/collectivism is one of several other cultural dimensions. Cultural studies experts measured these dimensions at country-level. They believe that the scores are stable over time as they reflect values transferred from parents to children and rarely change in later life. The experts argue that our early-life exposure to these cultural dimensions has consequences on our formative and adult years and the relationship between our identities and how we choose.
Nevertheless, most recent migratory trends have usually involved younger generations. Between now and later life, newcomers adjust to their new location, live and go to school in a new cultural environment, while bringing forward their cultural heritage. During the transition, migrants’ old and new cultures mingle. Traditional population segmentation methods cannot capture such transitional nuances. Existing policy-making tools do not seem to give justice to these individuals, and the societies they live in, anymore.

Cultural economists, data ethnographers, or those focused on culture analytics and social networks have also attempted to define and model cultural indicators. Their information-intensive approaches seem limited though in capturing culture’s fluid states of emergence, transformation, limitation, disappearance, and renewal.

Should instruments aiming to capture the transition of cultures include, beyond cultural dimensions, elements such as societal structure (e.g., globalized vs. distributed/local), population dynamics (e.g., participatory vs. siloed), intellectual humility (e.g., agility vs. consistency in holding opinions), resilience, or the nature-culture dualism?

Wouldn’t decision-making and policy design be better informed by a lively cultural understanding mediated through both economic and ethnographic approaches that are constituents to one another, not separate of each other?

© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  culture  decision-making  policy 

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