Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cultural Stories: Perspectives and Context

The last several months I've been looking into cultural narratives. What is our cultural narrative? And from which lens are we viewing it? Is it the American dream? Is it the Western cultural narrative? And how is this different from the cultural narrative of other cultures and civilizations such as the African, Indian, Latin American, Japanese, or Chinese?

If we take it to the very local level, we can think of the cultural story of our home town, and then go up the scale. So, for example, we can start with the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco, then the City of San Francisco, then the Bay Area, then Northern California, then Western region of the US, then the USA, then North America, then Western Hemisphere and finally Western Culture. Each of these levels has a particular character and a specific quality to its cultural story. So, it's very difficult to assign a cultural story at a global scale.

In the case of San Francisco and the Bay Area it is a hot spot for new innovations and hi-tech and one of the cultural narratives revolves around this theme. It is also a place of constant change, a melting pot of different ideas and cultures. There's also a transient quality about this region. There's also the cultural heritage of San Francisco, the impact of the Gold Rush in the 1850s, the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, the port of San Francisco, the emergence of Silicon Valley, the impact of Jack London, David Brower, John Muir, the 1960s music and counterculture, Stanford University and UC Berkeley and many other individuals institutions and movements that comprise the story of this region.

In addition to the physical and economic characteristics affecting the cultural narratives, there are the qualities associated with urban centers. In the case of the San Francisco Bay Area, the fast pace of life, the congestion, traffic, population density, valuable real estate all impact the story of this region.

A completely different cultural narrative may apply to someone living in say Cairo, Paris, Osaka, or Johannesburg. What each cultural narrative has in common is the impact of the city's physical biogeography, national and cultural heritage, population ethnicity, economic activity among many other factors.

For additional information about the world's civilizations, see: The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington. Also, Duane Elgin has done interesting work on social evolutionary stages. And to learn about cultural stories, see Great Transitions Stories and New Stories.