Another potentially rewarding context for creolization! A French legal scholar named Mireille Delmas-Marty has written a couple of articles building on the work of French Caribbean poet Edouard Glissant and suggesting creolization — by which I think she essentially means negotiating differences among different cultures — as a means of ensuring cultural diversity in a global world.

Delmas-Marty’s expertise is in international law, but she’s one of the few scholars I’ve seen who writes about the relationships between creolization and cultural diversity. (Jan Nederveen Pieterse’s take on what he calls the “Coca-Colonization of the world” is another.) She broached her ideas on creolization in a 2018 article for the UNESCO Courier, a magazine Glissant once edited, and developed them at further length in March 2021 in a special edition of Revue européenne du droit [European law review] published by the Groupe d’études géopolitiques [geopolitical studies group], a think tank in Paris.

In the RED article, written (or transcribed) as a “conversation at the crossroads of philosophy and law” with French philosopher Olivier Abel, she framed the “single poly-crisis” of “galloping globalization” as follows:

Over the past twenty years or so, we have experienced almost permanent global crises: a security crisis with terrorist attacks, then the humanitarian disaster of the wrecking of migrants, and still more financial, social (taking the unexpected form of “yellow vests movement” in France), climatic crises with the disruption of the ecosystem, and finally health crises with the current crisis. 

Their conversation was wide-ranging, as Delmas-Marty and Abel tried, in her words, to “orient ourselves among the various visions of the humanities in their relationship to the living, human and non-human,” but she touched on these key points as they relate to cultural diversity:

  • Article 1 of the UNESCO Declaration of Human Rights of 2001 “describes cultural diversity, recognised and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations, as ‘the common heritage of humanity.’ And Article 2 affirms that cultural pluralism is the ‘political response to the fact of cultural diversity’.”
  • Delmas-Marty posits three steps that can, or must, be taken to protect individual cultures from the homogeneity or leveling effect of global mass culture: (1) Dialog, which is straightforward enough but not always effective; (2) translation (French traduction, a term that doesn’t translate well into English), which means finding equivalences in different cultures; and (3) creolization.
  • She says creolization is “the ultimate form of interaction,” which “merges differences, but it is not a simple mechanism of crossbreeding.” She adds, quoting Glissant: “It is a cross-fertilisation, said Glissant, ‘which produces the unexpected’.” She doesn’t quite define it but says it “means finding, beyond dialogue and translation, a truly common meaning, joining the idea that, even if all values are not equal, all cultures have something to say about humanity.”

Delmas-Marty adds that it must be “made clear that creolisation, understood in this way, presupposes reciprocity: like other human rights, cultural rights are the result of a process of reciprocal hybridisation.”

A lot to think about here, and to digest. In the meantime, I am copying verbatim excerpts of salient points in her discussion of creolization below:

UNESCO Courier article

[An introductory editor’s note:] How can we protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions, while resisting relativism and imperialism, and reconciling the universalism of human rights with the pluralism of cultures? Mireille Delmas-Marty, a member of the Institut de France and a jurist specialized in the study of the internationalization of law, shares her perspective on the issue. She advocates “reciprocal creolization”, a dynamic and evolving process of coordinating, harmonizing and sometimes unifying, differences.

Protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions is one of the priorities that UNESCO’s Member States have set for themselves at the dawn of the third millennium. By signing the 2005 Convention, they defined cultural diversity as a common heritage of humanity that must not only be protected – as an established, permanent treasure – but also promoted, because it is a living treasure, and therefore renewable and evolving.

Cultural diversity had already been elevated to the rank of common heritage of humanity in the Universal Declaration of 2001, unanimously adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in November of that year. The text affirms that cultural diversity is, for humankind, “as necessary as biodiversity is for nature”. It was the first major intergovernmental meeting held just after the 11 September attacks in the United States, and UNESCO wanted to proclaim loud and clear its rejection of the theory of the clash of civilizations and its refusal to sanctify differences.

Recalling this context seems to me entirely necessary, because since 2001, we have been engaged in a kind of permanent global civil war, which sustains genuine religious frenzy and terrorizes entire populations. This has resulted, in particular, to the mass exodus of populations that we are experiencing today, and in the identity tensions of the countries of immigration − that are closing themselves off on their differences, in the name of a supposedly threatened national identity. All these current events compel us to develop increasingly effective tools for cultural pluralism.

[…]

As a jurist, my contribution to the reflection on the tools of cultural pluralism would be to propose, if not a set of instructions, at least a few ways to try to reconcile pluralism and universalism, and some means to try to bring cultures closer together.

We know that many conflicts are the result of ignorance of the Other, but we often forget to look for their origin in the ignorance of our own culture, which is a key factor. Opening up ways to broaden our knowledge of different cultures, including our own, is essential, I think, because it makes it possible for everyone to avoid conceiving the universal as an extension of their own culture. In other words, it is necessary to pluralize the universal.

But where should these paths, which open to the widening of our knowledge of different cultures, lead? My answer is: to the rapprochement of cultures. It is one step further, not just to merge cultures, but to make them more compatible with each other. I would call that ordering pluralism.

[…]

Going beyond fixed metaphors [subhead in the original]

To avoid both the relativism and imperialism of values, an interactive and adaptable dynamic is necessary. The rapprochement of cultures must be understood as a process, a movement that encourages us to go beyond the fixed metaphors – human rights seen as the foundations, pedestals, pillars or roots of various cultures – and give preference to the metaphor that presents human rights as the common language of humanity. It suggests three processes, the dynamic effect of which is growing: from intercultural exchange (dialogue) to the search for equivalences (translation), and even to reciprocal transformation (creolization).

[…]

But dialogue remains subject to the goodwill of the actors and, in this sense, its contribution to the rapprochement of cultures is limited to coordinating differences.

The second way, which goes further in the recognition of common values, is translation. A true “miracle”, according to French philosopher Paul Ricœur (1913-2005), it “creates a resemblance where there seemed to be only plurality”. I would add that translation is “miraculous” in that it respects differences, while seeking equivalences that can make these differences compatible. Translation is a means of harmonizing differences, an approach that contributes to rapprochement on the principle of musical harmony, as defined by Plato in The Symposium: “From contrary elements, such as sharps and flats, the art of music, by making them agree with each other, produces harmony.”

That said, we often encounter untranslatable concepts, and the misunderstandings they cause. For example, in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we read that “all men are endowed by nature with reason and conscience”. Initially, only “reason” was mentioned. But  one of the drafters of the Declaration(link is external), Zhang Pengchun of China, remarked that if the declaration was to be universal, the notion of reason alone was not enough. He proposed adding the Chinese term liangxin, which translated to conscience. In reality, the equivalence between liangxin and conscience is weak, because the Chinese term, derived from the characters lian and gxin, evokes moral conscience in the Confucian sense, that is, a conscience that favours otherness.

To solve this type of difficulty, we would need to go even further, by implementing the third means mentioned above: hybridization or, to avoid possible misunderstandings, creolization. I use the word creolization in the way it was used by the French poet Edouard Glissant (1928-2011), when he suggested opening up our particular poetics, one with the other. In other words, creolization makes it possible to unify differences by integrating them into a common definition.

In his book, La Cohée du Lamentin (2004), Edouard Glissant wrote: “Creolization is not a simple mechanism of inter-breeding. It is a mixture that produces something unexpected.” To produce the unexpected is to find − beyond dialogue and translation, but thanks to them − a new, truly common meaning. It is a way of overcoming differences.

Cite: Mireille Delmas-Marty, “Creolizing the idea of humanity,” UNESCO Courier, 2018-2 https://en.unesco.org/courier/2018-2/creolizing-idea-humanity.

Revue européenne du droit

[…]

There is perhaps the beginnings of an answer in this sense in the notion of “cultural diversity” enshrined in 2001 in the UNESCO Declaration, then in a convention in 2005. It was undoubtedly the fear of a clash of civilisations that led the General Assembly of Unesco, meeting in November 2001, less than three months after the attacks in New York, to state in a Preamble that “respect for the diversity of cultures, tolerance, dialogue and cooperation in a climate of mutual trust and understanding” is “one of the best guarantees of international peace and security.” The diversity of cultures, “a source of exchange, innovation and creativity;” is therefore, for humankind, “as necessary as biodiversity is in the order of life.” “Article 1 describes cultural diversity, recognised and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations, as “the common heritage of humanity”. And Article 2 affirms that cultural pluralism is the “political response to the fact of cultural diversity”. The question remains as to how to reconcile the pluralism of cultural (or intercultural) rights with the universalism of other human rights.

The drafters do not entirely avoid the question, as they recognise a tension between the diversity of cultures and the “awareness of the unity of the human race.” But their response is limited to encouraging the development of intercultural exchanges and making use of new information and communication technologies: although they constitute a challenge for cultural diversity (because they reduce differences?), the new technologies “create the conditions for a renewed dialogue between cultures and civilisations”. On the other hand, the drafters do not say how to overcome the apparent contradiction between the two poles. On the one hand, the pluralism of cultural rights could lead to relativism, if it merely juxtaposes differences, in defiance of any universalism. According to the report presented in 2019 to the 40th session of the Human Rights Council:[27] “One of the main problems remains cultural relativism. In the future we must continue to distinguish between cultural rights that amplify human rights and relativism that diminishes them in the name of culture and is rejected by international law”. Certainly Article 1 of the Convention states: “No one may invoke this Convention to infringe human rights and fundamental freedoms as enshrined in the UDHR or guaranteed by international law, nor to limit its scope”. But it does not give instructions for avoiding relativism. Neither to avoid the opposite risk that the universalism inherent in the notion of humanism (IHRD and IDDEN) is taken literally to the point of denying pluralism and imposing the fusion of all cultures and the disappearance of all differences in favour of the dominant model, which would only be the new habit of an imperialism that does not say its name. In order to attempt a kind of rebalancing, it would be necessary on the one hand to “internationalise” the different cultures, and on the other hand to “pluralise” the universal.

Internationalizing different cultures means facilitating interactions. Edouard Glissant defined difference as “the elementary particle of any relationship”: it is “through it that the Relationship with an R functions.”[28] And he recommended “opening our particular poetics to each other.” However, this opening has been facilitated as the increase in interdependencies born of globalisation (internet, migrations) multiplies the interactions making cultural rights true “intercultural” rights, the metaphor of language making it possible to distinguish, from the most modest to the most ambitious, three degrees of internationalisation.

At the first level, dialogue improves understanding, knowledge about and through the other. It facilitates rapprochement and, according to Glissant, allows “change by exchanging without getting lost or distorting oneself.” This method is sometimes fruitful, as I have shown with regard to the “dialogue of judges on the death penalty.”[29] However, it gives rise to a very pertinent criticism by Sophie Guérard de Latour:[30] the liberal vision “draws more a model of cultural cohabitation than it takes seriously the possibility of intercultural dialogue”. It does not make it possible to go beyond an ‘essentialist’ vision which suggests clear boundaries between liberal and traditionalist cultures (more attached to religion and communities), whereas each culture is crossed by various currents of interpretation and evaluation of beliefs”. And it is true that sometimes the dialogue is short lived.

On the other hand, translation (which implies the search for equivalences) goes further in the interaction. It brings cultures closer together by harmonising the differences which it sometimes helps to make compatible. A true “miracle”, according to Ricoeur, translation “creates resemblance where there seemed to be only plurality.”[31] Indeed, it “respects differences, while seeking equivalences”. It is true that we sometimes stumble on the untranslatable and the misunderstandings they provoke, but it is still possible to find equivalents, even if they are more approximate and require a return to dialogue for deciphering. An example of this is found in Article 1 of the UDHR, which begins as follows: “Men are endowed with reason and conscience”. Initially the text referred only to reason, but the Chinese delegate added the Confucian-inspired term Liangxin. However, this term was translated very loosely as Consciousness, whereas it is rather a kind of otherness. Even if it is weak, and close to misunderstanding (the freedom of “conscience”, which appears in art. 18 UDHR is translated into Chinese by a different word Yishi), the equivalence had the merit of opening a dialogue.

Finally, “creolisation”, the ultimate form of interaction, merges differences, but it is not a simple mechanism of crossbreeding. It is a cross-fertilisation, said Glissant, “which produces the unexpected.”[32] Producing the unexpected means finding, beyond dialogue and translation, a truly common meaning, joining the idea that, even if all values are not equal, all cultures have something to say about humanity. Provided that it is made clear that creolisation, understood in this way, presupposes reciprocity: like other human rights, cultural rights are the result of a process of reciprocal hybridisation. And the same is true of the notion of crime “against humanity” which is “creolised” by gradually incorporating several visions of humanity.[33]

We then come to “pluralise the universal”. Here we find the spiral of humanisms: legal humanism is intended to be universal, but refers essentially to Western modernity. Pluralising it invites us to “uncover the cultural biases that reinforce the processes of oppression.”[34] It therefore means “deconstructing the claim of any dominant culture to embody the universal, in order to rehabilitate the culturally diverse forms of humanism in their own dignity.”[35] In short, it means accepting the unfinished, incomplete and evolving character of cultures and exercising critical reasoning, taking into account the evolution of science, technology, knowledge and beliefs. The example of some of the major errors of the supposedly most advanced cultures is edifying: yesterday the Earth was placed at the centre of the solar system; today many still place Humanity at the centre of the Earth’s ecosystem.

Hence the idea that the different visions of humanity are not determined once and for all because they are characterised both in relation to other humans (individuals or communities) and in relation to other living non-human beings. They are therefore evolutionary. To extend the image of the spiral, I would say that the various humanisms succeed one another, rub shoulders with one another, overlap and combine to draw a plural universal, the inevitable tensions of which will have to be balanced.

[…]

[27] K. Benoune, “Droits culturels : Rapport marquant le 10ème anniversaire du mandat”, A/HCR/40/53.

[28] E. Glissant, L’imaginaire des langues, Gallimard, 2010.

[29] M. Delmas-Marty, Le pluralisme ordonné, Seuil, 2006, p. 53.

[30] S. Guérard de Latour, “L’humanisme, une valeur à partager entre différentes cultures”, Observatoire des politiques culturelles, 2017, p. 25s.

[31] P. Ricœur, « Le paradigme de la traduction », in Le juste, Esprit, 2ème éd 2001, p. 135.

[32] E. Glissant, La Cohée du Lamentin, Gallimard, 2005.

[33] M. Delmas-Marty, Vers une communauté de valeurs, Seuil, 2011, pp. 81-98.

[34] S. Guérard de Latour, op. cit., p. 28.

[35] Ibid.

Cite: Mireille Delmas-Marty and Olivier Abel, “In the spiral of humanisms,” Revue européenne du droit, March 21, 2021 https://geopolitique.eu/en/2021/03/21/in-the-spiral-of-humanisms/.

Misc. notes

Headnote to the special edition of Revue européenne du droit, published under the title “Governing Globalization”:

While the world is still facing the effects of the global health crisis and States seem to have rediscovered the appeal of protectionisms and isolationisms, the urgency of a global governance of commons, in light of the challenges faced by humanity as a whole, is more apparent than ever before. Under the scientific direction of Professor Mireille Delmas-Marty, we publish the second issue of the Revue européenne du droit, with contributions contemplating the features of a truly plural global governance and of the legal tools able to embody it, in order to ensure unity and harmony in plurality.

It is followed by an introductory essay and table of contents, with links.

Odds and ends from Wikipedia, etc. :

Revue européenne du droit, La Revue européenne du droit (RED) est une publication scientifique bilingue éditée semestriellement par le Groupe d’études géopolitiques. Au carrefour de la géopolitique, des relations internationales, des sciences sociales et économiques, elle se veut une source de débats critiques autour des principales questions du monde contemporain abordées d’un point de vue juridique et stratégique, et sous un prisme européen.

Wikipedia: Le Groupe d’études géopolitiques ou GEG, est un think tank français1 et européen2 qui produit de la recherche à partir de la notion d’échelle en proposant une réflexion interdisciplinaire sur la géopolitique de l’Europe3. / Fondé et domicilié à l’École normale supérieure de la rue d’Ulm [Paris] en 20174, le GEG est reconnu d’intérêt général depuis décembre 20195.

“Groupe d’études géopolitiques,” Wikipedia https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupe_d%27%C3%A9tudes_g%C3%A9opolitiques.

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