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Diana Brydon Visionary Conversations: Culture and Creativity

2011/09/14

Conversation is at the heart of how we learn in our classrooms and increasingly, through social networks online. It’s a good medium for learning to negotiate values and priorities in global times. Globalization makes creativity and culture more important than ever. How can they help us deal with the big challenges of today? There is a wonderful TED talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie called “The danger of a single story.” Here she reminds us that “Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories…. If we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.” Refusing the terms of the single story enables us to change the frame of analysis, and remember the many ways in which we can take joy in the beauty, diversity, and challenges of this world and work together to imagine a better one.

My work with three interdisciplinary, international, and intergenerational collaborative projects involves analyzing the current relations between globalizing processes and community efforts to secure their autonomy, advancing knowledge and practice for greater public participation and control in the governance of global affairs, and thinking about how the teaching of English can advance those aims. We are experimenting with talking across several borders, disciplinary, national, and sectoral. Through collaboration, we are stressing the value of discovery through dialogue. UNESCO claims: “The cultural wealth of the world is its diversity in dialogue.” What would it mean if we took this statement seriously? If we were truly committed to diversity in dialogue, listening hard to those we most disagreed with, to ideas that make us cringe, or make us fearful, and to ideas we privately think are misguided? Can we learn to work together for a greater goal?

I serve as the North American convener on the Building Global Democracy program. So many decisions are now being made at the global level without democratic input. What initiatives could be taken to allow the people affected by these decisions to have some say in how they are arrived at? What could be done to help people learn more about the current situation and learn to imagine themselves as members of a global community? Diversity in dialogue is crucial for the survival of our planet, but it can be difficult in practice.

Through the Centre for Globalization and Cultural Studies, we are exploring the ways globalization is changing how we learn as well as what we need to learn to deal with the challenges of our changing world. Our cluster on national and global imaginaries considers the changing place of the nation-state in the world-system and the stories people tell about how they dwell in their local and national places. Home is where culture, community, and citizenship intersect. With increased global movement, belonging becomes more complicated. Our critical literacy focus recognizes that new skills in reading, writing, and communicating need to be developed for participating effectively in the global conversation. We have a new three-year partnership development project, “Brazil/Canada Knowledge Exchange” to develop what we are calling transnational literacies. These combine those cross-cultural, critical, digital, and linguistic skills that are necessary for working transnationally today. We are starting with Canada and Brazil to encourage creative thinking about Canada’s place in the Americas. Social media enable us to invite people from around the world to join our conversations and work with us to direct attention into new avenues of engagement. We are shifting away from older broadcast models toward intergenerational and international forms of participation.

History, literature, and the arts, when studied in cross-cultural perspective, offer different ways of thinking about time, place, and the components of a good society. I find inspiration in the work colleagues on campus are doing to explore the perspectives afforded by indigenous cosmologies, sustainable imaginaries, linguistic diversity, and decolonizing initiatives. These offer alternative fashionings of community that run counter to the dominant forms of globalization that seem to limit our choices today.

Culture shapes our imagination and creativity enables it to grow and change. The university’s work takes shape through our ability to renew the research imagination and keep it in dialogue with the world around us. Who we are and where we speak from makes a difference in what we can imagine. Here in Winnipeg, our sense of place includes a sense of planet and our imaginations are open to the world. Our strength will come from the diversity of cultural perspectives we can engage in what is increasingly becoming a global conversation.

During the question period I made the following response to a question about religious rights. You may view it on the University of Manitoba’s video at the 58 minute mark.

The research for this talk at the University of Manitoba September 14 Homecoming event was made possible, in part, through support from the SSHRC partnership development grant program, the Canada Research Chair’s program and the University of Manitoba.

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