Why kult-ur?

Who has drawn the line that separates the rural —the countryside— from the urban —the city? How? Why? What for?
Jesús Ibáñez

The boundaries between city, neighbourhood, housing estate and village have almost faded away. We have even invented “non-places” (AUGÉ, Marc) to the detriment of “real” places; both public and private life are now hyper-monitored by “big brothers” and by ourselves; nothing is solid, discreet, perfectly delimited, stable and long-lasting any more; rather, Bauman’s liquidity has reached every corner, to the point that we are afraid that the time to shut up shop has come —or perhaps we are hoping it has.

It is therefore timely to rethink the town/village and reinvent the city. The questions Jesús Ibáñez posed more than twenty years ago need to be revisited and answered.

Mobility, a central characteristic of our times, permeates every inhabited and habitable space. Nomadism has reappeared to impregnate a large part of our interactions and experiences. We have to be alert to and observe the effects of mobility on the culture and life in towns, villages and cities.

We need to construct new ways of seeing and different ways of reflecting on the world, ways that heed its complexity and ecological, open interconnectivity which enable us to better manage uncertainty (MORIN, Edgar).

Reclaiming the city

At kult-ur we believe that globalisation can be explained as, among other things, the result of technological progress designed to glorify the intermediary —whether in finance, transport, marketing, etc.— and the culmination of consumer and casino capitalism. Globalisation is the outcome of an ideological choice made within a particular conception of the world that pursues extreme increases in wealth for a heartless few, and the imprisonment in extreme poverty and alienation of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population.

This globalisation has destroyed all the structures of containment and moderation of a ferocious capitalist system, such as politics as we once knew it. It has bought the will of civil society, which delegated to manifestly corrupt political parties, trade unions and institutions —at the bidding of private individual and corporate interests, not of the ordinary people they were supposed to represent— and they have been replaced by private owners’ clubs —read G7, G8, G20, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Davos, etc.— in which only two parties, the German and French governments (in the case of Europe), against the passivity of the rest, rule the fate of 500 million European citizens.

Problems are generated globally but suffered locally. As citizens, all we have left is the city: the place where we really see each others’ faces. A city understood as a space where equal strangers live together, where the freedom to live among strangers/foreigners/nomads can be reinvented; more numerous strangers and foreigners, but also more free.

This freedom is grounded on the capacity and the power to govern our own lives, in the recognition of the different and diverse Other. A freedom pertaining to the humanity we share. A freedom that sees opportunities for social commitment and change in the difficulties of heterogeneity.

The city is a place governed by the word. In cities, conflicts are resolved by appealing to the deep-rooted use of shared meaning conferred by what makes up our environment: traditions and customs, myths and rituals, the legal system. In a nutshell: culture. Because the city is the place of conversations. The city —as opposed to the ‘jungle’— can only be ordered, codified and codifiable, recognisable, interpretable and communicable by, with and among its inhabitants. We need to learn to read the city, understand the conversations that take place in its heart. In sum, it is our right to form part of them.

The culture of living

Hölderlin wrote, “Die Menschen finden sich in dieser Welt zum Leben” (Man’s task in this world is to live), and culture is the language that articulates this living of life. The need to know and use this language subtly, precisely and creatively, personally and appropriately, in a way that allows us to recognise, imagine and invent, is the essential crux of the educational purpose that permeates our vision and our action. We have to learn to live —to live well— and to take value decisions that dialectically specify what “well” is. This culture is formed by everything we do, so reflecting on culture is our main activity. By reflecting on the different spheres that determine the way we organise socially, we develop a culture of living that includes the ordinary, the public, the shared. Within these spheres, we must review the social bonds we generate and the use we make of them, the most appropriate ways of communicating. In the final instance, we will inevitably question the prevailing social model and means of production that dogmatically and absolutely impose intolerable and unjustifiable inequalities of wealth and welfare.

Revista kultur, número 1