No culture is absolute – Constantin von Barloewen gives lecture at DOC Research Institute


Berlin, 28 February 2018. During his lecture at the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, anthropologist Constantin von Barloewen pointed out that a multipolar world requires a deep understanding of how different cultures and religions think and relate to the world around us, as well as one another. “Different cultures have different traditions and we need to understand this before we make politics and business with them”, he explained. As an example, he mentioned development politics, which can only be successful and sustainable when an understanding of the host country has been taken into account.

Titling his lecture ‘Cultural factors of realpolitik’, Baerloewen underlined from the start the extent to which our cultures, as the totality of habits, mental concepts and views – weltanschauungen – shape our actions in the realm of politics. Realpolitik, properly understood, takes cultural diversity into consideration. The alternative, i.e., politics based on ideals, means absolutising a given cultural arrangement and using it as a gauge to measure other cultures’ performance. This necessarily leads to feelings of repudiation and to inter-cultural conflict.

Identities are formed through the cultural and personal background of each individual and intercultural identities are created through globalisation. For von Barloewen, culture is also a political and economic identity for geopolitical actors. Therefore, we can observe that every economy has its own economic capital and that interculturalism and diversity in this sense are an idea of progress, but that should not mean one culture dominating another, as this leads to conflicts, according to von Barloewen.

“We can see this in term of technologies being implemented globally. Technology and culture always need compatibility. We see this in the example of Japan, which took over and developed technology under its own premises of Japanese culture. At the same time the Latin American continent did not take over a Western understanding of modernity, simply because they understood everything that came from Europe or Northern America as a new form of colonisation”. Von Barloewen: “We very much face now the phenomenon of a world society and it is important that this is not only meant in an economic sense, but also a cultural sense as different cultures need to have a balanced co-existence. No culture is absolute, this thinking only leads to war. The relationship between unity and diversity must be balanced by integration.”

One of the participants asked if all cultures are ready for dialogue? His short answer was, “We need to make the effort of dialogue again and again and again. If we don´t try, what is the alternative?“

Constantin von Barloewen is one of the world’s most renowned anthropologists. His research is focused on the diversity of world cultures and religions in the age of globalisation and the cultural-anthropological prerequisites of modernity. As a professor of comparative anthropology, Constantin von Barloewen has taught at leading universities in Europe. He has held a research position at Harvard University and has lectured at Princeton.

Von Barloewen was a member of the World Commission of Culture and Development and has worked with General Federico Mayor at UNESCO, the World Economic Forum in Davos and the Aspen Institute.

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