Sustainability and Culture

(Concept Paper)


The International "Sustainability and Culture: shaping the future global landscape seminar" is offered by Plovdiv University, Bulgaria in cooperation with international universities and research partners.  The focus of the seminar is on analyzing the prospects of sustainable social economic planning inclusive of a culture's worldview, its material interests, and its higher order values.  Culture is defined as an organized and systematic strategy for structuring social relations in order to effectively manage the complicated processes involved in the interchange between its members and the environing system(s).  Cultural values include perspectives on how to organize social life in such a way as to realize value in socio-cultural terms. For example, values considered by the culture to be of an intrinsic nature or intended to satisfy higher order human needs – including cultural aesthetics, norms, and the culture's view on how to have an appropriate relationship with the natural order.  In economic terms, socio-cultural values are strategies for obtaining and satisfying the material needs of the culture. In this respect culture is a system for maximizing the benefit its members are able to enjoy in their relationship to each other and with the environment. In short, a cultural worldview, its normative principles, and its institutionalized systems represent a structured means by which a social group organizes its internal and external processes so as to maintain its vitality, its cultural integrity, regulate its boundaries (i.e. to protect its boundaries), and the means by which the culture is able to perpetuate its existence (Geertz, 1973, 90). 


However, a culture exists in a state of interpenetration and interchange with processes internal and external to its system (e.g. cultures are embedded in other more extensive system(s)).  As a result, a culture is subject to influences by phenomena that it did not constitute but phenomena that are able to influence its system – thus the culture faces the challenge of establishing an effective response to forces that could otherwise threaten the flourishing of the culture. The external forces include the influence of expansionism, mercantilism, techno-economic intrusion and determinism, assumptions about modernization, and the consequences of the prior development paradigm – which led to environmental devastation.  To withstand the forces that could diminish the vitality of the culture a social group institutionalizes normative and structural systems that serve as functional strategies for maintaining equilibrium (i.e. the endeavor to maintain a complementary integration between the culture and its environment) (Parsons, 2007, 423). "Equilibrium is a fundamental reference point for analyzing the processes by which a system either comes to terms with the exigencies imposed by a changing environment, without essential change in its own structure, or fails to come to terms and undergoes other processes, such as structural change [and/or] dissolution as a boundary-maintaining system" (Parsons, 2007, 426). 


The most radical disruptions occur to the extent that a culture has attempted to maintain its traditional sustainability practices. That is to say that under the prior development paradigm cultures were impelled to adapt to strategies for progress and modernization by becoming increasingly reliant on technological advancements for coping with their internal and external processes. Thus, a techno-economic form of determinism disrupted what heretofore had been sustainability practices. The new techno-economic intrusions result in chemical intensive industrial scale modernizing schemes penetrating into every area of cultural life until it became part of the culture's very substance (Ellul 1964, 6). Thus, cultures are threatened by external forces in such a way that the external force(s) have the power to subject the culture to the colonization of their life-world.  The colonization of the life-world subjects a culture to the role of being a subsystem of another powerful techno-economic force (Habermas 1987, 155). In fact, the colonization of a culture's life-world can be a means by which one civilization advances itself by intervening in another culture in order to realize its political and economic aims.


One aspect of the problem occurs due to an endeavor to adapt to the strategies for economic development prescribed by the established paradigm for the progression of civilization.  The second aspect of the problem occurs due to the fact that the progression of civilization has made it increasingly necessary for cultures to integrate their systems into the global network. This occurs because of the notion that, in accordance with the assumptions of Modernity, in order for an undeveloped or underdeveloped culture to become developed it must accept technological transfer (i.e. its infrastructure must provide for technology).  Thus, due to the impact of the prior development paradigm, if a culture intends to adapt to its environmental challenges in order to meet its material needs it will be compelled to decide which side of the technological divide it would like to be on – or it must discern how to resolve the dichotomy.  The dichotomy must be resolved in a way that is best for maintaining the flourishing of the culture while, at the same time, promoting economic development. The knowledge needed for resolving the dichotomy in a way that is complementary with cultural heritage, for planning sustainable futures, and for responding to environmental challenges requires insight from the natural sciences, the social sciences, political science and public administration, as well as, economics and business administration. That is to say, that effectively researching the topic requires interdepartmental cooperation and interaction. Thus, this international seminar is planned to engage an extensive international network of scholars who are interested in and committed to ongoing and extensive collaboration in regards to sustainable approaches to future growth that is inclusive of socio-cultural values as well as economic/material values.


The primary theme of the seminar is sustainability – however sustainability in terms of promoting an approach to social-economic progress that is in line with the cultural values and heritage of particular contexts while taking into consideration the impact of the environment on a micro culture's social-economic planning for its future.  A broad perspective on the theme is called for, as well as, an interdisciplinary approach to researching the topic. That is to say, that although it is necessary to take into consideration the particular geographical locations of the context chosen for the research the focus will be on applying state of the art knowledge regarding sustainable social economic planning to unique social, economic, cultural, and environment settings.  The seminar intends to produce strategies for applying the principles of sustainability to particular cultural contexts in order to create qualitative improvements in the lives of people. In addition the seminar aims to enable individuals to realize their full potential for health, happiness, and prosperity; and the seminar will contribute to developing conceptualizations, factors, and principles that help people to enjoy a more satisfying lifestyle and better living conditions.


In this respect, the articles presented at the seminar should focus on strategies for applying the principles of sustainability toward conceptualizations of how to maintain the profitability of a biophysical context for countless generations to come but in a way that establishes complementary interactions and interchanges between humans and nature. Eco-leadership is the conceptual model for planning an environmentally friendly approach to sustainable social-economic futures.  Eco-leadership is defined as an agent that acts as a knowledge entrepreneur, contributes to resolving the tension between the prior view on development and a Holistic perspective on how to achieve sustainability, and creates knowledge networks (Wielkiewicz & Stelzner 2010, 22-23).  In addition, eco-leaders are socio-cultural agents who facilitate multi-level networks for increasing public value in three dimensions: relational/intersubjective (social), prosperity and flourishing (economic), and in eco-aesthetic terms (environmental ethics and in terms of a culture's eco-aesthetic values). In short, the seminar's articles should reflect a vision of growth, progress, and well-being. The article should be based on the new knowledge age paradigm that views human, social, and economic progress from a Holistic perspective: e.g. how to achieve sustainability, generate knowledge networks that aim to collaboratively co-create value outcomes found beneficial for a larger number of social stakeholders, and promote the integration of humanity's material/economic values with humanity's higher order values.





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Habermas, Jürgen. (1987). The Theory of Communicative Action (volume II). (McCarthy,

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Parsons, Talcott. (2007). An Outline of the Social System. Classical Sociological

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Wielkiewicz, Richard. & Stelzner, Stephen. (2010). An Ecological Perspective on Leadership

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