Every so often we can come up with an idea that helps us to understand other ideas that we’ve been struggling with. This is a fragment of the diagram from my small cultures paper in 1999, and then used again on page 42 in my qualitative research book.
The orange represents seamless varicultural life. The blue lines, segmenting and pointing, represent ‘cultures’ that we construct for multiple reasons carved from the varicultural life that flows everywhere.
Saying that cultures are constructions does not mean that they do not ‘exist’ or are not ‘real’. They are at the core of our identities from nation or civilisation to family, food, sport or the workplace – to two friends deciding to present themselves to the world in a particular way. They express the huge diversity in practices and values between communities and groups of all types. They are also influenced or imposed by political orders, religion, education systems, geographies and so on. The blue segmenting therefore represents large or small acts of positioning, differentiating and reifying. It is important to see that this is social, political, cultural, organisational action.
What this is not is ‘cultures’ that have somehow always been there that might now be blurred by globalisation and newly rapid communication systems. The belief that the bounded bit comes first and then the messy stuff seeps out is likely to be the result of ‘us’-‘them’ national or civilisational grand narratives. Even the notion of ‘transcultural’ seems somehow to imply a liberation from original essentialist divisions – where threads are found as some sort of new cultural learning across boundaries
It is by putting aside these narratives that we can begin to see, by looking around is, that cultural flows have always been there – later cut into, segmented and rationalised by such as national boundaries or indeed colonising forces.
The varicultural world is therefore the original canvass of human life from which cultures are built, move and change. This means that cultures are never original but rather formed creatively from this basic material. It is this common, underlying material that makes it always possible for all of us to find threads that can connect us. We are not therefore creating threads between essentially different, separate cultures, but instead clearing away, digging down through baggages of difference to find and liberate what has always been there in our basic humanity.
Note: The notion of varicultural came from thinking about the gradual variation in my varifocal glasses during a conversation with my co-researcher, Sara Amadasi, about the problem with a dominant ‘us’-‘them’ bifocality. I then found the term used, in this connection, in this poem by Michael Shepherd.