CULTURE AND SOCIAL ANIMATION
A Taste of Social Science for the Community Mobilizer
1. Animation Promotes Social Change:
A human settlement is not merely a collection of houses. It is a human (social and cultural) entity. (The houses, which are cultural products of humanity, belong to one of the six dimensions of society or culture, the technological dimension, as will be explained below).
Social Animation (promoting community participation and self help) mobilizes and organizes a community. This means that the social organization of the community is changed, however slightly. The animator, therefore, is a social change agent, or catalyst.
2. An Animator Must Know About Society:
may be dangerous to dabble in changing something you know nothing about.
It is therefore the responsibility of the animator to learn something from
the sciences of anthropology and sociology.
An animator is an applied sociologist,
so must know some important features of the subject.
3. Keep Essential Elements of Society in Mind:
The important thing for the animator to note here is the inter-connections between the cultural dimensions which comprise a community. While social scientists may disagree about the precise nature of those inter-connections, all of them will agree that the basic characteristic of society (and thus of the communities within a society) is the interconnection of those cultural dimensions.
A community, like other social institutions, is not merely a collection of individual persons; it is a changing set of relationships, attitudes and behaviour of its members.
4. Culture is Learned:
Culture consists of all those things, including actions and beliefs which human beings (as physical animals) learn, which make them human. Culture includes learned behaviour, but not things which are determined genetically. Culture is stored and transmitted by symbols; never by chromosomes.
While some culture is learned in childhood (like how to talk, for example), other is learned by adults. When the animator is engaging in promoting social change, she or he is promoting the learning of new ideas and behaviour. Adult educating skills are therefor needed.
This sociological definition of culture, which is society itself, is not the common everyday definition of culture, where people usually think only of drumming and dancing, or only the arts (they belong to only one of the six dimensions of culture, the aesthetic).
5. Culture Transcends its Humans:
Culture is super-organic. Understanding this special concept, "superorganic," is important in understanding what is a community.
Just as the organic level is based on inorganic (living cells are made up of non living atoms, etc.), so the superorganic is based on the organic (society is not a human being but it is made up of human beings).
This means that, during animation (mobilization and organization) of a community, the animator must always be able to separate what is happening to the overall community itself, in contrast to what is happening to particular individuals.
6. A Community is A Superorganic System:
A community can be seen as being something like an organism. It lives and functions even though its human members come and go, are born or die. Just as a living cell, plant or animal, transcends its atoms, so an institution, a behaviour pattern, or a community, transcends its individual humans.
A belief, for example, is believed by persons, but that belief may live on through other persons long after the first ones die. The same with an institution such as marriage, an organization such as an air force, a town such as Maputo, a custom such as shaking hands, a tool such as a hoe, or a system such as marketing. All of these transcend the individual human beings which carry them.
A society, then, is a system ─ not an inorganic system like an engine, not an organic system like a tree, but a superorganic system built up of learned ideas and behaviour of human beings.
Although a community is a cultural system (in that it transcends its individual persons) do not assume that a community is a harmonious unity. It isn't. It is full of factions, struggles and conflicts, based upon differences in gender, religion, access to wealth, ethnicity, class, educational level, income, ownership of capital, language and many other factors.
In order to promote community participation and development, it is the task of the animator to bring these factions together, encourage tolerance and team spirit, and obtain consensus decisions. That is not easy. While techniques of doing this are found in other documents in this series, knowing about social and cultural systems (described in this document) lays a theoretical background upon which the animator can build up professional competence.
For the animator to promote social change in a community, it is necessary to know how that system operates, and therefor how it will respond to changes. Just as an engineer (an applied physical scientist) must know how an engine operates, the community facilitator (applied social scientist) must know how a community operates.
7. Dimensions of Culture:
All culture (or social organization) has several dimensions. Like the physical dimensions of length, width, height, and time, cultural dimensions may vary in size but, by definition, permeate the whole. It is suggested here that the most logical set is of six cultural or social dimensions. These account for all systems of learned values and behaviour.
These dimensions of culture include:
- Institutional (social),
- Aesthetic-value, and
You can not "see" a dimension of culture or society, as you can see an individual person. Every individual manifests each of the six dimension of culture.
To become socially aware, the animator must be able to analyse all six of the dimensions, and their interrelationships, even though s/he can only see individuals, not those dimensions.
8. The Technological Dimension of Culture:
The technological dimension of culture is its capital, its tools and skills, and ways of dealing with the physical environment. It is the interface between humanity and nature.
Remember, it is not the physical tools themselves which make up the technological dimension of culture, but it is the learned ideas and behaviour which allows humans to invent them, use them, and teach others about tools.
When a facilitator encourages a community build a latrine or well, new technology is introduced. A well (or latrine) is as much a tool as is a hammer or computer. The facilitator must be prepared to understand the effects on other dimensions of culture by the introduction of a change in the technological dimension.
9. The Economic Dimension of Culture:
The economic dimension of culture is its various ways and means of production and allocation of scarce and useful goods and services (wealth), whether that is through gift giving, obligations, barter, market trade, or state allocations.
It is not the physical items like cash which make up the economic dimension of culture, but it is the various ideas, values and behaviour which give value to cash (and other items) by humans who have created the economic systems they use. Wealth is not merely money, just as poverty is not merely the absence of money.
When a community decides to allocate water on the basis of a flat rate for all residences, or to allocate it on the basis of a payment for each container of water when it is collected, then a choice is being made between two very different systems of economic distribution. The animator should encourage the community to choose what it wants so as to be more consistent with prevailing values and attitudes. (A good animator will not try to impose her or his notion of what would be the best system of distribution; the community members, all of them, must come to a consensus decision).
10. The Political Dimension of Culture:
The political dimension of culture is its various ways and means of allocating power and decision making. It is not the same as ideology, which belongs to the values dimension. It includes, but is not limited to types of governments and management systems. It also includes how people in small bands make decisions when they do not have a recognized leader.
An animator must be able to identify the different types of leaders in a community. Some have traditional authority, others have charismatic personal qualities.
When working with a community, the animator must be able to develop the existing power and decision making system to promote community unity and group decision making that benefits the who community, not just vested interests.
11. The Institutional Dimension of Culture:
The social or institutional dimension of culture is composed of the ways people act, interact between each other, react, and expect each other to act and interact. It includes such institutions as marriage or friendship, roles such as mother or police officer, status or class, and other patterns of human behaviour.
For the animator or mobilizer to be successful, she or he must know what are the local institutions, what different roles are played by men and women, and what are the main forms of social interaction.
12. The Aesthetic-Values Dimension of Culture:
The aesthetic-value dimension of culture is the structure of ideas, sometimes paradoxical, inconsistent, or contradictory, that people have about good and bad, about beautiful and ugly, and about right and wrong, which are the justifications that people cite to explain their actions.
Whenever an animator introduces new ways of doing things in the community, prevailing values, however contradictory and varied, must be considered.
13. The Beliefs-Conceptual Dimension of Culture:
The belief-conceptual dimension of culture is another structure of ideas, also sometimes contradictory, that people have about the nature of the universe, the world around them, their role in it, cause and effect, and the nature of time, matter, and behaviour.
The animator must be aware of what the prevailing beliefs are in the community.
To be an effective catalyst of social change, the animator must make suggestions and promote actions which do not offend those prevailing beliefs, and which are consistent with, or at least appropriate to, existing beliefs and concepts of how the universe works.
14. All Dimensions Are in Each Bit of Culture:
The important thing to remember is that in any society, in any community, in any institution, in any interaction between individuals, there is an element of culture, and that includes something of each of those cultural dimensions. All of these are learned from birth.
The new-born child is like an animal, not yet a human being, but he or she begins learning culture immediately (for example, when drinking from the breast) by interacting with other humans, and thus starts becoming human. (Many say that this humanizing process begins in the womb). This process of learning, and thus of becoming, continues until death.
If you are not learning, you are dead.
15. Interconnectedness Has A Practical Use:
For the social animator, and for anyone who is engages in any development activities, the important part of all this is the variety of interconnections between those cultural dimensions. They may be causally and functionally inter-related. Technology (in contrast to popularly held ideas), for example, both the tools and the skills to use them, is as much a part of culture as are beliefs, dances, and ways of allocating wealth.
To make changes in any one dimension has repercussions in each of the other dimensions. To introduce a new method of obtaining water, for example, requires the introduction of new institutions to maintain the new water system. Learning any new ways of doing things will require the learning of both new values and new perceptions. To ignore such interconnections while promoting technology transfer is to do so at your peril (unexpected and/or unwanted results may be produced).
16. Interconnectedness Affects Social Change:
To change something in one cultural dimension not only requires changes in other dimensions, it causes changes in other dimensions.
That is why social impact assessment should be made of all projects, large and small.
17. Conclusion; Importance of Culture to Animation:
The inter-connections between these cultural dimensions are neither simple nor easy to predict. The animator must be aware that they exist, and continually encourage observation, analysis, sharing of ideas, reading, and attending lectures or seminars.
By working with communities, the animator must learn more and more about their culture, and the dynamics of their cultural dimensions.
In the Market Place:
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––»«––Last update: 2012.05.03