the center for transcultural studies: who we are
A CHANGING WORLD
A global communications revolution is affecting us in ways we are only beginning to understand. We live during a period when the dynamics of change are located at cultural interfaces created by global telecommunications and mass media. CNN shows global audiences televisual spectacles of democracy demonstrations in Russia, China and Eastern Europe. Financial instruments designed to profit from the rapidity of modern capital transactions shape economies and financial markets worldwide. Local cultures respond to global capital by creating new sources of wealth and new forms of exploitation. As markets emerge in Sri Lanka and Poland and cosmopolitan cultures develop in Mexico City and Hong Kong, traditional labor markets in the United States and Japan shrink and urban underclasses in the Philippines and India expand.
For almost a decade, the Center for Transcultural Studies has worked with colleagues around the world to understand and respond to these changes. Along the way, we have discovered a common problem--research, teaching and reporting about global issues do not keep pace with change. The complexity of these issues makes it impossible for any single institution to possess the resources or cultural sensitivity necessary to understand them. Instead, we must share resources if writing and research about global changes and our own cultures are to become accessible to audiences in other countries.
The Center has met these challenges by creating a decentralized, flexible international network of institutions and individuals. This network cooperates to transform research, teaching and publishing about contemporary cultural issues in diverse societies. With the support of major foundations and network institutions, the Center has built an infrastructure of international collaborative research projects, conferences and exchange programs.
The Center is planning a major expansion of these activities to reach new audiences and publics. Its international projects use global telecommunications to coordinate research and writing. Three different publication series with major university presses are underway, and arrangements have been made to publish this work in Chinese, Japanese, and Russian.
The Center supports innovative thinking about contemporary cultural issues by creating an environment that encourages pluralism and acknowledges cultural difference. All projects include colleagues from abroad who identify relevant issues, research frameworks and methods. No single culture's problems serve as the departure point. Our projects start with questions such as, what issues do colleagues in other societies regard as important for improving our understanding about them? What do we think they should know about us? Instead of treating local issues as minor variations of global processes, can we conceptualize global processes as emerging from interconnections among specific localities? Can shared problems be illuminated through comparison and contrast?
Shrinking budgets and the global information explosion requires that we share resources by designing flexible and decentralized modes of working together. Coordinated, yet flexible, decentralization is both a new way of working together and a new outlook. It recognizes that any given perspective results from the interaction of many perspectives. No single perspective should be exclusively privileged. Even cultural resources like libraries and museums do not exist independently. They are world information resources that should be networked and shared.
The Center is exceptionally able to coordinate the activities of an international network of institutions and individuals. Instead of concentrating resources or administration in one place, researchers and administrative staff are located at network institutions, and communicate via email, faxes, phone conferences and other telecommunications technology. The Center coordinates over a dozen international working groups that use this communications infrastructure to work on joint projects.
These groups meet in Chicago and at network institutions for conferences and seminars. The Center publishes and translates the proceedings of such meetings. In addition to individual participants, all projects involve at least three institutions whose activities are coordinated by a project director.
This streamlined structure provides the necessary flexibility for responding quickly to important cultural issues and for disseminating information to the larger network. The decentralized structure minimizes administrative overhead and facilitates the most efficient use of resources. It also provides a successful model for organizations to operate effectively in an increasingly globalized world.
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