Libraries, Social Movements, and Cultural Change – Toward an Alternative Conceptualization of Culture

While sociological conceptualizations of culture span a wide range of metaphors, from codes to elephants to toolkits, they are often insufficiently attuned to the processes through which cultural challenges are advanced by individual and collective actors, and the place of political and institutional power in constraining or nurturing these challenges. Drawing from relevant institutional and cultural theories, this article advances an alternative conceptualization of cultural systems as a vast and interconnected network of  libraries. This new conceptualization offers three strengths over existing cultural approaches. First, libraries are viewed as dynamic repositories for cultural materials, containing vast holdings that may be accessed, used, and interpreted in unpredictable ways. Second, libraries are not neutral collection points but rather are enmeshed in a broad complex of forces that both organize and legitimate cultural resources through processes of selective acquisition, categorization, and preservation. Third, because of their entanglement in political and institutional power relations, libraries are often focal points for cultural contestation over the legitimate interpretations and uses of cultural resources. We focus on processes of cultural revitalization, fabrication, and canonization to illustrate the relationship between libraries and power relations, and provide examples of cultural challenges, from antiquity to the present day, via these contestational processes.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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