Review of “Clan, Caste and Club”: Adding India to the Conversation

Clan, Caste and Club, by F.L.K. Hsu (1963), focuses on the major differences among those cultural structures that are most common and valued in America, Hindu India, and China, seeking to add nuance to the understanding of each by means of comparison with the others.  At heart, the book’s thesis is that the most valued type of social network in China is the clan, in India the caste and in America the club, and that each of these links to situation-centered, supernatural-centered, and individual-centered worldviews in each culture, respectively.  This text took a primarily ethnographic approach to these topics, relying on interviews, texts, and observations that were then interpreted in order to extract the dominant patterns for each society.  Some of the details of these studies are now out of date, given their basis in research conducted in the late 1940s and throughout the 50s, as, for example, major social patterns have changed somewhat in gender relations within family groups in America; however, there is still much food for thought in this book’s discussion of long-term patterns in social structures for these three highly populated areas of the world.  This is because of the consistency with which these three different worldviews are presented, so that it is clear how much evidence about long-term social patterns went in to the development of the author’s conclusions, the three-point comparative nature of the book’s structure, which allows for greater nuance as evoked through contrast, and the fact that American (and related European) cultures may drive a great deal of expectations and structures within international organizations, but China and India combined nowadays include about half of the entire world’s population, and therefore it is relevant to place these three groups’ approaches to social interaction into conversation with each other.

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Review of “The Geography of Thought” and its Relevance for World Heritage Management

The fascinating and accessibly-written book The Geography of Thought, published in 2004 by cultural psychologist Richard Nisbett, summarizes the broad-spectrum implications of a number of studies that he, his graduate students, and his colleagues in related disciplines carried out in order to investigate the differences between cognitive processes in two major world areas: East Asia and “the West.”  Fundamentally, the discrepancies come down to manifestations of cultural emphases on

1)      complex, interacting environments and communities that function as whole systems and as continuous substances, for East Asia,

2)      and on the object-based categorization of isolated individuals that can join with others to function as a group, but that never lose their identifying characteristics as individuals even within a broader system, for more “Western” countries.

From the studies that Nisbett discusses, these contrasting understandings of how to break down the world – or not – appear to affect a wide range of social and intellectual traditions in each area, from how to teach children language and how to identify causal relationships in behavior, to the concepts of immutable-once-signed contracts and the significance of individual human rights.  This means that through a wide range of possible forms of interaction between people from “Western” countries and those from East Asia, each group comes to the interaction at hand with conflicting (or at least seemingly mutually unintelligible) assumptions about how the world does and should work.  Therefore greater understanding of these varying world-views on the part of both sides can facilitate productive communication on an international scale, and better relations between them.

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World Heritage Site: Huangshan of China « Flickr Blog

World Heritage Site: Huangshan of China « Flickr Blog.  The photo-sharing social media site, Flickr, has once again placed a spotlight on a World Heritage Site; this time, they chose Huangshan to highlight.   I find it curious that this has occurred 3 times of late, as I have been following the Flickr Blog for years and do not recall prior explicit references to World Heritage.  However, this site has access to billions of photos, many of which have indeed been taken in such historic locations, given that their spectacular nature is often one of the characteristics that inspired both their original significance and their inscription on the World Heritage List.  (Indeed, I have myself taken and posted hundreds of photos of World Heritage Sites, mostly from periods of studying abroad: Siena and FlorenceFerraraVenice, Ravenna, the Dolomites, RomeEdinburgh, and several sites in central/southern Japan.) In that sense, it is unsurprising that some of those eye-catching places would attract the attention of the Flickr editors, particularly given the skill of many photographers on the site.  

But why the mention of World Heritage Status, rather than just a commentary on the place itself, as was the case in past years? I noticed that a higher-than-usual amount of visitors read and “liked” my recent post about Arashiyama’s inclusion on the Flickr Blog, and my prior one about Huanglong.  Do any of you have thoughts about the questions I put out there then, regarding the effects of digital media publicity on awareness of and visitors to World Heritage Sites?  Anyone have personal experience with sites that were noticeably affected by an increasing online presence, or have questions of their own about the relationship between digital media and the management of historic destinations? Please feel free to share!

The below images are from the Flickr post on Huangshan.

Huang Shan Sea of Cloud

Huang Shan Sea of Cloud, photo by Flickr user yatlee

Stone Bridge between two cliffs

Stone Bridge between Two Cliffs, photo by Flickr user kmcheng

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Arashiyama « Flickr Blog

Arashiyama « Flickr Blog.  Once again, the editors of the Flickr Blog have chosen to highlight an internationally famous, registered historic site, this time the Arashiyama (“Storm Mountain”) area of Japan.  Just as when I noticed this inclusion of World Heritage Site Huanglong on Flickr’s Blog, I am curious about the degree to which a popular social media site like Flickr, particularly one with such an emphasis on aesthetics, can have an effect on visitor interest in historic locations, whether they are significant for their natural or cultural past. (Arashiyama gains attention for both.)  What other factors react with such publicity to influence potential visitors?  How can a historic site intentionally use such positive media to direct public attention in the manner that site deems best for its organizational goals and its (both cultural and natural) environment?

colors of bamboo* 04

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest: photo by Flickr User *Tathei*

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Forget The Mission Statement. What’s Your Mission Question?

Forget The Mission Statement. What’s Your Mission Question? | Co.Design: business + innovation + design.

This article has some solid points that would be useful for any organization to think about, I expect.  It focuses on the concept of returning to and rehearsing types of questions that are useful for getting participants to engage in the underlying purpose and goals of the organization, rather than getting stuck on some kind of bland tagline, uninformative mission statement or weak public image.  For museums and historic sites seeking to enhance their integration into the local community, increase their investor and visitor numbers, or widen the range and dedication of people who care about their site and have a stake in its future, this article has pertinent advice for guiding one’s internal business decisions and public self-promotion.

In a previous article, I shared five questions that today’s forward-thinking companies should be asking, based on input from top business consultants. This second installment, on the same theme, presents five more questions–but with a specific focus this time. These are questions that zero in on the mission and higher purpose of a company. Think of them as “mission questions.”

Most companies, of course, articulate their missions by way of formal “statements.” But often they’re banal pronouncements (We save people money so they can live better. –WalMart) or debatable assertions (Yahoo! is the premier digital media company) that don’t offer much help in trying to gauge whether a company is actually living up to a larger goal or purpose.

Questions, on the other hand, can provide a reality check on whether or not a business is staying true to what it stands for and aims to achieve. So herewith, derived from interviews for my forthcoming book, A More Beautiful Question, are thoughts from a couple of top CEOs (Panera Bread’s Ron Shaich and Patagonia’s Casey Sheahan) and a trio of leading business thinkers/consultants (the Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen, Peer Insight’s Tim Ogilvie, and SY Partners’ Keith Yamashita). The following five “mission questions” are designed to keep a business focused on what matters most.

1) Why are we here in the first place?

2) What does the world need most that we are uniquely able to provide?

3) What are we willing to sacrifice?

4) What matters more than money?

5) Are we all on this mission together?”

For further details of these points, continue reading here…

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5 Lessons In UI Design, From A Breakthrough Museum

1 | 5 Lessons In UI Design, From A Breakthrough Museum | Co.Design: business + innovation + design.

Although focusing on what the Cleveland Museum of Art’s successful use of interactive media means for effective design in public spaces, this article reveals how even struggling museums and historical sites can use new technology (if they can find the resources for it) to engage with younger and more diverse audiences , making history and art exciting by interpreting it in an immediately accessible, understandable and entertaining format.  This is relevant for all those trying to help their curated spaces, whether they are historic sites, art collections or any other type of museum environment, draw and maintain the attention of younger audiences – a necessary process for those hoping to keep their site open and thriving into the future.

Museums today compete for attention in a wildly difficult environment: If you’re a youngster, why stare at a Greek urn when you could blow one up in a video game? One institution thinking deeply about the challenge is the Cleveland Museum of Art, which this month unveiled a series of revamped galleries, designed by Local Projects, which feature cutting-edge interactivity. But the technology isn’t the point. “We didn’t want to create a tech ghetto,” says David Franklin, the museum’s director. Adds Local Projects founder Jake Barton, “We wanted to make the tech predicated on the art itself.”

Put another way, the new galleries at CMA tackle the problem plaguing most ambitious UI projects today: How do you let the content shine, and get the tech out of the way? How do you craft an interaction between bytes and spaces that feels fun? In so doing, the project bears a number of lessons that are broadly useful:”

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Questioning the Social Paradigm behind World Heritage Listings

This spring semester, I am doing an independent study with a professor who has worked extensively on World Heritage Sites in Cambodia and nearby Southeast Asian nations, as well as with organizations related to the funding, preservation management and interpretation of major historic sties in the US and abroad.  His perspective has been particularly thought-provoking, as his experiences in the field with these sites have led him to view the values of UNESCO’s World Heritage program as idealistic to the point of often being naive, due to the complicated logistics that actually affect these sites and which the central organization in Paris does not often take into account.

Indeed, in looking through the research I have written up previously (posted here, here, here, and here), he commented that I clearly had a solid understanding of UNESCO’s policies and the Euro-American anthropological point of view on cultural heritage – but that those views were misplaced and sometimes straight up dead wrong when applied outside of the Euro-American cultural sphere.  Primarily, he believes this to be the result of radically different directions taken by the history of thought – and therefore social norms, values, and structures – in areas influenced by ancient Greek, Christian and particularly Protestant philosophies, on the one hand, and other major traditions, such as Confucianism, Hinduism, etc. on the other(s).

In short, with this in mind, the implication is that the vast majority of assumptions underlying the United Nations’ work on sustainable development and cultural heritage rely on a significantly different symbol system than that which provides the foundation for related conversations and industries among at least half the world’s population, and likely much more than that.

Since one of my goals is to better understand what factors contribute to the successful interpretation and promotion of historic and cultural sites (in a world where the definition of “success” itself is subjective), with a focus on World Heritage Sites, the idea that UNESCO World Heritage Listings are fundamentally flawed due to these different societal histories makes this a pretty important topic on which to follow up.  Doing so will give me, I expect, a much more nuanced perspective on why World Heritage Sites are treated the way they are, what the effects of those decisions may be, and how these processes compare with those at other major types of cultural and heritage tourism destinations.

This is not to say that the above simplified summary of my professor’s critique of organizations like UNESCO and ICOMOS is fully accurate, or that those organizations are without merit.  I do believe that they have certainly made some valuable contributions to the global conversation about how to manage historic sites and other culturally significant materials and places.  However, it would require a stubborn idealism about such organizations to argue that their work is beyond reevaluation or that their underlying assumptions will be appropriate in every society around the world.  Rather, I expect that exploring the reasons why such organizations have faced significant challenges to their success – in a way that fits geographical patterns – will be critical for helping me better understand what actually works well (or not) and why when it comes to the management, interpretation and promotion of culturally important sites.

Since beginning this independent study program, I have been working through a book every one or two weeks on topics related to the issues I mention above, and writing up a response to each week’s reading.  The first of these, which was written before our first discussion on how the history of thought in a region can affect the efficacy of UNESCO’s policies, I have already posted to this blog, here.

I intend to soon post the other few that I have already completed, and then to add further commentaries in the future as I write them, in addition to continuing to collect news articles  I find relevant to this blog’s topics.  Hopefully, this will provide a useful medium for developing my thoughts further in an organized fashion!  As always, I welcome feedback and recommendations from those of you reading my blog.

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“Between dream and reality: Debating the impact of World Heritage Listing”

Call for papers – Universitetet i Oslo.

This conference, to be held in Oslo on November 14th-15th of this year, seems like it might fit well into the direction I have started to shift my research, so I’ll be keeping this in mind as I think through my work this spring and summer.  Thought I’d post it here for safe-keeping, and for sharing with readers with similar interests.  (Although, I need to find out if it will take place in English, rather than Norwegian, as the latter option would make it difficult to participate…)


Since the 1990s World Heritage has been portrayed as a marker of transformation, from economic growth, increased tourism, regeneration to more intangible aspects of local pride and global recognition. In the last five years research on the effects of World Heritage inscription has shown that World Heritage status is not synonymous with tangible benefits such as increased funding and tourism. Yet it has proved much more difficult to pin down the more intangible consequences of World Heritage listing. Thus this conference invites speakers to explore a series of specific questions related to the tangible and intangible transformations of World Heritage inscription:

  • What impact does World Heritage status have?
  • To what extent does the World Heritage transform places?
  • More empirically, how does the World Heritage status impact and possibly transform places?
  • How is World Heritage status used and does it really generate change?


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The Science of Preservation: A Podcast on the Conservation of a Crumbling Church in Philadelphia

Episode 169: Neighborhood Preservation | Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Majestic old buildings testify to the rich history of cities across the world. But why do some of these buildings seem unaged while others rot just blocks away? The answer, sometimes, is science. On today’s episode of Distillations we’re looking at the role of chemistry in neighborhood preservation. First, producer Alex Lewis shares the efforts of a Philadelphia-based congregation trying to save its crumbling church. Then we talk to the Delaware Valley Green Building Council‘s Heather Blakeslee about how architects and developers restore aging structures to live new and greener lives.”

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The Reconstruction of Mecca’s Grand Mosque Involves Extensive Damage to Major Historical Features

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Construction cranes are seen as Muslims circle the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on January 6, 2013. (Amr Dalsh/Reuters)

In a move that is controversial among both heritage professionals and Muslim groups outside of the extremist Wahabi government of Saudi Arabia, the rulers of Islam’s birthplace have begun construction on the Grand Mosque of Mecca in order to expand its capacity for visitors to the city on Hajj, but in the process are intending to destroy most of the remaining structures in the Mosque that date to the early years of Islam.  Moreover, there are plans to increase the opportunities for shopping near this Mosque, in order to enhance the degree to which the great number of pilgrims to Mecca can contribute to economic growth of the region.  Pilgrimage destinations have long taken advantage of the potential income that religiously motivated travelers provide to such a destination, with examples of this process having been documented all around the world and throughout history.  What is different about this case, though, is that Wahabi leaders are not just promoting tourist-style attractions and accommodations for the pilgrimage sites under their control, but they are also prioritizing such development over the protection of some features that contribute to the sacredness of the destination, which poses a threat to both the preservation of Islam’s material history and the narrative of significance for Mecca.

And Wahabi leaders are justifying this destruction not only economically but also ideologically: They fear that the prophet Muhammad’s association with this Mosque encourages idolatry, one of the sins they most denounce.  The politically correct sensitivity  that often comes with both political and religious sovereignty complicates the international community’s reaction to this destruction, in a comparable fashion to what has happened in Bamiyan and Timbuktu.  

But in this case as in those, I expect that the motivations and logistics for this intentional destruction are much more complicated than the international media has yet uncovered.  We shall have to see how Muslim communities outside the Saudi government respond to these acts, given that some are already speaking up against the development of the Grand Mosque and will likely continue to do so.

For two related but more extensive commentaries already published about what’s happening in Mecca, check out these articles:

McMecca: The Strange Alliance of Clerics and Businessmen in Saudi Arabia | Zvika Krieger – The Atlantic.

The photos Saudi Arabia doesn’t want seen – and proof Islam’s most holy relics are being demolished in Mecca – Middle East – World – The Independent.

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