Appadurai The Capacity To Aspire Essay

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Arjun Appadurai In Culture and Public Action. Rao, Vijayendra and Michael Walton (ed). Stanford University Press. 2004. The Capacity to Aspire: Culture and the Terms of Recognition The Argument This essay seeks to provide a new approach to the question: why does culture matter? Let us lengthen the question and ask why it matters for development and for the reduction of poverty. This both narrows and deepens the question. The answer is that it is in culture that ideas of the future, as much as of those about the past, are embedded and nurtured. Thus, in strengthening the capacity to aspire, conceived as a cultural capacity, especially among the poor, the future-oriented logic of development could find a natural ally, and the poor could find the resources required to contest and alter the conditions of their own poverty. This argument runs against the grain of many deep-seated images of the opposition of culture to economy. But it offers a new foundation on which policy makers can base answers to two basic questions: why is culture a capacity (worth building and strengthening), and what are the concrete ways in which it can be strengthened? Getting Past Definitions We do not need one more omnibus definition of culture any more than we need one of the market. In both cases, the textbooks have rung the changes over the long century in which anthropology and economics have taken formal shape as academic disciplines. And not only have the definition mongers had ample say, there has been real refinement and academic progress on both sides. Today's definitions are both more modest, and more helpful. Others are better equipped to tell the story of what we really ought to mean when we speak of markets. Here I address the cultural side of the equation. General definitions of culture rightly cover a lot of ground, ranging from general ideas about human creativity and values, to

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