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Editors: Claval, Paul
Pagnini, Maria Paola
Scaini, Maurizio
Issue Date: 19-Jul-2006
Journal: Proceedings of the Conference THE CULTURAL TURN IN GEOGRAPHY, 18-20th of September 2003 - Gorizia Campus
Part I: Cultural Geography: the Theoretical Approach
Both political and scientific worlds are paying growing attention to the “conceptual
chameleon” - according to Morin (2001, p. 99) - known as culture, in all its multiple forms:
from identity to popular traditions, from religious issues to interethnic conflict. Like a river in
flood, culture draws the attention of public administrators and politicians, journalists and
scientists, entrepreneurs and essayists; unexpected changes occur in people who usually focus
their attention on completely different matters, using very different terms.
The geographical world is not immune from this trend. It is no accident – as pointed out by
Claval (2002) – that many people speak about a “cultural turning point”, with regard to the
fact that the cultural approach could give a new epistemological basis to the discipline.
But is it really a turning point? Are cultural phenomena, aspects and problems treated in
abstract or concrete terms? Are we speaking about containers or contents? A turning point
means “a radical change in the course of events” (Devoto e Oli, 1995), and therefore a
revision of contents – that is to say conceptual categories – in the light of new values, and
verifying the compatibility of these values to other important questions of our times, such as
eco-development, social justice or human rights. Without this revision, there is a danger that
contradictions, incongruities and imprudence could emerge, with a layer of rhetoric covering
cultural issues, as always happens when we speak about incontrovertible concepts without
considering practical implications.
The most relevant danger, however, is that culture could become a mere tool for political
legitimization and social consensus, both in the economic world - following the new ethnic
trend of the global market, more and more focused on local tradition, typical products,
handicrafts - and the political world, whose interactions are being reformed on coordinates
which are still unclear. In other words, there is the concrete risk that culture could become a
mere romantic and reassuring label, which speaks of traditions, historical roots, of a simple
world which no longer exists, but that at the same time guarantees the continuation of the
status quo, disarming the critical capacities and canceling the intrinsic innovative potential.
The cultural dimension, in fact, contains elements that could usher in a turning point, at
least because it is able to trigger reflections related to the existential dimension of life, the
relationships between human beings, the relationship between society and environment, the
realm of the meanings and the symbolic values of objects and places, beyond the materialism
and individualism of the modern age. It could be an important occasion for a general review of
consolidated opinions and behavior, which are part of an entire way of interpreting reality and
of pursuing progress, which is in an evident state of crisis and needs to be concretely
This paper deals in particular with the case of cultural identity, which is one of the most
treated topics in recent scientific literature and strongly linked to other important questions,
such as multiculturalism, local development and cultural diversity. The aim is to give a critical
reading of these topics and to make a proposal, starting from the basic geographical concept of
Type: Proceedings
ISBN: 88-8303-180-6
Rights: © Copyright 2003 Edizioni Università di Trieste - EUT
Appears in Collections:The cultural turn in geography

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