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What ICA Thinks: 2d

Culture is Key

Culture is key to addressing economic and political contradictions


Since its early days in the 1960s, a major feature of ICA’s community work has been to address issues in a comprehensive manner. While particular actions might be focused on immediate objectives, they are understood in the context of their implications for all people, all problems and, given today’s consciousness, the entire Earth. Furthermore, it is crucial to address the depth human issue that inhibits creative action within a comprehensive context. This led ICA to extensive research in 1971 on the dynamic relationships of the Economic, Political, and Cultural dimensions of the Social Process, which is depicted through the use of triangles. Further reflection and analysis showed major imbalances in these relationships.


Culture is the collective way in which communities formulate, rehearse, and pass-on shared values. It consists of a system of attitudes that have meaning, coherence, and efficacy. While Culture is often inherited and practiced on a superficial level, the prevailing nature of Culture fosters an inherent trait for returning to depth understanding. This is because the central question associated with Culture is, “What is profoundly true and significant in life?” Whether sought or not, narrow reductions that fail to take the totality of life experience into consideration are eventually exposed as inadequate.


Today in the United States, the entire Social Process is out of balance with the Economic playing a dominant role. Consider how the concept of a “return on investment” influences deliberations in different aspects of life where it has typically not been applied before. Particular courses of study in higher education, for example, have increasingly been judged to have value, or not, by the potential income that students can expect to earn upon graduation. Making money, rather than making a useful contribution to society, has become an end-all objective often with little purpose other than keeping score. This leads to short-term thinking, focused on quick profits, with actions typically based on illusory assumptions about unlimited growth. The “market,” for many, becomes the final arbitrator of decisions and actions. This view of the Economic, which is a “reduced” view, is driven by a preoccupation with acquisition and consumption and is easily recognized as the dominant way of thinking in society. It is reinforced perpetually by Political dialogue, commercial advertising, and social media that strongly influence popular perceptions.


The authentic role of Economic processes is to provide the basics of life for the well-being of all members of society. This is a matter of justice. ICA programs enable people to become agents of their own development. While this involves inclusive work to address issues in a comprehensive manner, it also means stressing the crucial aspects of Cultural commonality. Why do we do what we do? What is most important? How do we reinforce these values, and maintain them, when they often run contrary to “conventional wisdom?” Rather than a direct assault with gestures that insist Economic and Political processes must change, an emphasis on Culture addresses underlying values that support, or alter, existing practices. Historically, ICA has given great attention to demonstrating new alternatives and using stories, symbols, and songs to reinforce them. These are practical messages that create new images from the bottom up. They draw deeply upon the culture of communities and groups while expanding the story to care for all people, consider all problems, and to live in harmony with Planet Earth.


Resources for more information:

  • D. Paul,Schafer, Revolution or Renaissance: Making the Transition from an Economic to a Cultural Age, University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa, 2008. (related article in annex)
  • Jon C. and Maureen R. Jenkins (1997), The Social Process Triangles, Imaginal Training, The Netherlands. (related article in annex)
  • Joseph Campbell, with Bill Moyers; Betty Sue Flowers, ed (1988), The Power of Myth, Doubleday, New York. Also available in video with many segments on YouTube.
  • Documentary video, “Pete Seeger: the Power of Song,” PBS American Masters, 2007.