Different meanings of cultural participation

Understanding of cultural participation differs across Europe


Is cultural participation visiting theatre, concerts and exhibitions, or taking a part in a creation of a theatre play – acting, painting, making music? Or both? Or everything one does in a given society? What is culture? A production of art works or a way of living, expressing oneself, eating, thinking?


Those are the questions brought out to light by the first round of the Delphi panel study, where we have asked 45 various experts from 9 European countries about cultural participation policies and practices for refugees in their cities.

At the beginning of the panel we have invited them to reflect on the UNESCO’s general definition of cultural participation. It says: “Participation in any activity that, for individuals, represents a way of increasing their own cultural and informational capacity and capital, which helps define their identity, and/or allows for personal expression. Such activities may take many forms – both active, such as creating art or even volunteering for a cultural organisation, and passive, such as watching a movie – and may occur through a variety of formal or informal channels, including the internet.”


They – the panellists – are public servants, artists, cultural managers, policy makers, refugees and aid/refugee workers in the North-West EU countries ( Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden and The Netherlands) as well the South East Europe (Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal).

Their responses have brought to light that the very meaning of the cultural participation, what is considered by it, the angle we look at it differs across diverse countries and fields of work.


In some countries respondents see cultural participation of refugees as a means for finding a way into a society, because everything is culture (habits, norms and values in eating, dressing, sport, etc). For the panelists from other countries, cultural participation means being active in the cultural filed, as when the people visit cultural events or create art works; and in some other countries it is an instrument – a state organized activity – to enhance integration. By the last you can think about the language and integration courses, or the adapted prices and tours to the museums.


Where these differences come from? Obviously, they mirror the different political, economic and social contexts of these European countries, which, of course, influence not only policies and practices in these countries, but also the understanding and interpretation of the “objective” definition.


But the intriguing question is: do these different interpretations refer only to the cultural participation of refugees? Or they refer also to the “domestic” people? In a case of the latter, it would mean that the roots of differences is not the “cultural participation”, but the term “culture” – that it is taken and understood differently, in some countries broader (as a way of living), and in others specifically focused on production and consumption of art works (films, theatre, music).


In the next newsletter we will report on how this discussion develops and also if more intriguing topics have emerged. The full results of Specially Unknown Delphi panel will be published at the beginning of September 2019.


Links to the different articles of the 1st newsletter: