10 ways culture is changing us

10 ways culture is changing us


KEA Newsletter – The Independents’ Voice – Issue 48 – May 2016

Ccervantesshakespeareulture is now considered as a special sector of the economy, like technology. It consists of the production of films, music, literature, fashion, designed goods, performances and works of art, as well as the provision of services reliant on entertainment, design, experience and education. It is amongst the most competitive sectors of the EU economy, admired by the developing world which associates technology innovation with the USA and culture-based creativity[1] with Europe.

The term “culture” embraces many elements.  It is an agent for change to improve the human condition and society. Culture was the name for a mission where people with knowledge would enlighten and elevate the lower classes.  Political and philosophical ambitions are also at play, with culture serving to create nations and states, as well as to promote solidarity amongst citizens sharing the same culture. As a set of preferences imposed on the basis of their correctness, culture supports social cohesion in quite a conservative way. With the rise of individualism and globalization, the practice and role of culture is taking new forms.  Culture is a personal matter, an appropriation subject no longer to prescriptive mediation but linked to evolving group identification, tastes influenced by peer groups or clever marketing. Culture is in demand for its ability to create social bonds and interactions. Culture can elevate and give meaning. Culture is disruptive.

Culture is a formidable vector of identity.  According to the Treaty, the European Union has no competence to create a cultural identity. This is the Member States’ prerogative. Recognising that culture is specific to each nation state, the EU is only allowed to intervene to foster intercultural dialogues and culture diversity. Struggling for survival, the Union lacks myths with unifying heroes.

In the absence of a true policy on culture, the EU institutions are essentially working with Europe’s  culture and creative sectors, where the focus is trade, intellectual property and competition law, as well as the EU’s funding programmes focusing on SME’s, innovation and smart specialization as part of EU ‘s cohesion policy.  The funding support could amount to close to € 10 billion for the period (2014-2020).  The EU budget to support artists and cultural institutions is equivalent to the budget of a large opera house.

Together with cultural institutions and heritage, the culture and creative sectors quietly serve the development of a European identity.  They embody the continent’s history, diverse customs and “savoir faire”, landscapes, noises, urban settings and public spaces, artistic, religious, political and entrepreneurial freedom, enabling the expression of distinctive creative spirits linked to diverse localness.

Using “clichés” such as Italian, French and Belgian fashion, British and Swedish music, German, Finnish and Danish Design, Dutch architecture, European creators, craftsmen, chefs and wine growers contribute to Europe’s excellence in creativity and innovation.  Creative hubs and clusters, cultural institutions managed or populated by mixed nationalities in polyglot, cosmopolitan and global European cities (Paris, London, Amsterdam, Milan, Berlin, Barcelona, Vienna) act as a magnet to international investors and world citizens looking for inspiration, knowledge or “etiquette”.


We need to assess the contribution of culture in a broader context:

  1. Culture is a key vector of innovation in communication technology. It is instrumental in the rise of e-commerce, the transformation of technology companies into entertainment businesses (Apple, Google, Amazon) and the rise of the sharing economy as human interactions predominantly take place when exchanging cultural preferences.
  2. Internet penetration is the highest in Europe (compared to other continents). This is because of Europe’s distinctive reliance on trade and cultural exchanges, due to its geography and history.
  3. Information and culture is economic and social power. The rapid spread of access to Hollywood movies has a transformative power globally.  It contributes to the expression of the universal and the celebration of what is common to humans.
  4. Culture through the arts helps to challenge issues like technological “advancement” and questions unrestrained and uncontrolled free market ideology. It has an important enlightenment role.
  5. China has made the development of its culture and creative sectors a policy priority as a way to transform its manufacturing into a service economy, but also acknowledging that a country cannot rely on economic growth alone to support the development of a harmonious and peaceful society.
  6. Culture contributes to innovation in a very substantial way, highlighting the importance of heritage and culture-based creativity (innovation stemming from artists and creative professionals) in the development of new services and products by providing meaning, beauty and competitive disruption. On the downside, this also serves to create desires and new needs which propel consumerism.
  7. Culture is activated by European cities to transform their economy, reinforce social cohesion in the face of ethnic tensions, attract investors and tourists or restore pride amongst citizens.
  8. Investment in culture can have a rebalancing effect in a world that leans more and more towards greater inequality. With globalization and market dominance in the technology sector threatening cultural expressions and identities, culture underpins the very fabric of human diversity.
  9. Culture is helping to transform the labour market, facilitating the emergence of new skills and competences in art, science and technology to enable the emergence of the modern Leonardo Da Vinci.
  10. Culture makes Europeans more aware of the impact of the rise of global communication and cyber surveillance on privacy.

Contrary to technology culture is not a tool. Culture is more than a temptation to produce more things for consumption.   “Culture makes us more human” (Georges Steiner).  Cultural development is intrinsically linked to the history of Europe, the continent which invented fiction in literature, opera, pop music, cinema, modern art, industrial design and architectural schools. It is the continent which saw the birth of the main cultural industries (publishing, music and film). Acquiring culture is acquiring a taste of Europe, a way of life nurturing diversity, quality, traditions, values and creativity.  The European project as a laboratory for the rest of the world on coexistence and mixing varied local cultures, should lead the way in promoting progress which celebrates quality of life, taste empathy, diversity, traditions, beauty and solidarity.

Culture and Europe to contribute to enlightening the world?  A disruptive thought?


Philippe Kern
Founder and managing director of KEA

[1] KEA,  The impact of culture on creativity,  European Commission, 2009

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