Cities are “laboratories” of communal life

January 23rd, 2018

By: Johannes von Dohnanyi, Change Magazine, Bertelsmann Stiftung

Germany has long been the country of immigration that it doesn’t yet officially want to be. An unbiased reality-check of one’s own personal environment as well as countless social-science studies provide ample proof of this.

Yet Germany’s status as a country of immigration didn’t begin only when the “guest workers” invited from southern and southeastern Europe in the 1960s simply stopped returning to their home countries. And it certainly didn’t begin as those fleeing starvation and war in Africa and the Middle East fled to Germany in recent years. “Foreigners” have always been drawn to the territory that is today called Germany. And they have always brought their gods, rituals, food and customs with them. The construct of a national identity as a source of self-definition as well as a guiding principle in living communally together emerged only with the birth of national states in the 19th century – and since that time, has served primarily as a conscious means of isolation from everyone and everything outside this community. Thus, it connotes confinement rather than capaciousness.

One of mankind’s oldest lessons teaches that cultural diversity enriches. It matters not whether this is moral or political, economic or artistic, or even culinary: Diversity implies the opportunity to expand one’s own horizons. The Europe of the last century was above all a project of desire for capaciousness, in contrast to the confinement enforced by national states. Yet disruptive contemporary megatrends such as globalization and digitalization have led to uncertainty and anxieties. Familiar living environments are changing. Cultural identities – thus, the canon of values marked by language, religion, philosophy, traditions and practices – appear to be in jeopardy. In times of accelerating diversity, portions of society again seek isolation from the foreign as a protective framework. Because diversity, of course, doesn’t simply offer opportunity. It also carries with it a potential for friction and conflict that should not be underestimated. Researchers may have established in theory that societal cohesion is not fundamentally disturbed by accelerating cultural diversity. However, individuals’ lived reality shows that living together in cultural diversity cannot be taken for granted, but rather must be actively shaped.

The peaceful coexistence of different cultures and peoples in one state requires a durable cultural pluralism that is secured through constitutional safeguards.

This is the topic addressed by the Reinhard Mohn Prize 2018. Innovative ideas and practices are needed, along with creativity, in order to positively shape the communal coexistence of people with different cultural characteristics, identities and lifestyles. For this reason, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is looking around the world for outstanding examples of urban cultural diversity as a concrete and lived aspect of normal daily communal life.

 

It is in the cities where cultural diversity – the good and the bad – is experienced with particular intensity. Whether through encounters in a neighborhood, at the workplace, at school, in clubs or especially in local politics, the city as a “laboratory” offers the best opportunity to practice living together in diversity within a manageable and familiar context, and to develop a new self-understanding through new and positive experiences: How does cultural diversity act as an economic factor in a given location? To what extent is it a driver of innovation? What legal regulations are there in Germany for dealing with cultural diversity, and how do such regulations look like in other European countries? To what degree do artistic practices represent a medium or platform for dealing with cultural diversity as a societal challenge? The project team has developed this research focus jointly with recognized experts from the academic, political, economic, media and civil-society spheres. A selection of pioneering strategies and projects will be further examined in case studies, and be illuminated from various perspectives in accompanying studies and publications.

The recipient of the Reinhard Mohn Prize 2018 will be an outstanding personality who inspires others, and who has come to international public attention thanks to his or her impact on how issues of cultural diversity are handled. Indeed, the substantive work done to that point, the expert networks that have resulted, and the public attention generated should serve as a solid foundation in making a positive contribution to cultural diversity. The Reinhard Mohn Prize award ceremony in summer 2018 will thus mark only one – though a significant – waystation on a long and ambitious road.

This article is an excerpt from change Magazine (2/2017). See also German version.

Johannes von Dohnanyi is a German-American foreign correspondent, journalist and author.

REINHARD MOHN PRIZE

The Reinhard Mohn Prize is awarded in honor of Bertelsmann Stiftung’s founder Reinhard Mohn (1921 – 2009). The prize is awarded annually to exceptional, globally active individuals who have played a key role in creating solutions for social and political issues. In order to identify and select a prize recipient, the Bertelsmann Stiftung conducts a worldwide search for innovative concepts and solutions to sustainability challenges with relevance for Germany. Weblink:   www.reinhard-mohn-preis.de

 

 

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