Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Quakers and Sharing Difference

At the moment I'm on holiday with my family staying with friends in a small town in southwest France called Montignac. I am away from Sheffield for a full year and one of the things I realised I would miss were the Quaker meetings. When I found that there was a blog I asked if I could contribute not knowing quite what I would want to say. So this is my first entry and it's not about missing the meeting but about an example and a contradiction of difference.

I've been thinking about the festival I saw in Montignac. It is an international folklore festival that has been running for 25 years now that brings folklore groups from all over the world to this small rural town for a week. The shows they put on are 'more' than just folklore: I mean that they are full performances of, for example, classical Korean Dance or elaborate ritual performances from Burkina Faso.

What struck me particularly during the parade at the close of the festival was how this is a model of a certain sort of non-integration experience. It is the experience of specific difference, of people's folklore traditions being an example of their difference. Of people enhancing and demonstrating their differences to evoke something they share.

One of the French groups that came was from a different department in France and there was no visible difference to them for the outsider: black hats, black shawls and accordions, yet there was clearly for them a desire to re-find their specific tradition, to define their difference.

There is a desire to enhance co-operation and understanding by focussing on what is different through its re-discovery or at times its invention. The rediscovery of tradition, the enhancement of difference and its confident manifestation in one place leads to a sort of dissolution of difference at the same time.

1 comment:

Craig Barnett said...

Thanks for this Tim. Your thoughts point to some of the issues around 'integration' and 'multiculturalism'. there seems to be a lot of debate around these issues at the moment in relation to immigration and ethnic minorities (especially from Muslim backgrounds), without necessarily a lot of light being shed on the subject.

Personally I see the recognition and valuing of cultural differences as very important. I would hate to live in a society where everyone was expected to conform to one set of values or one religious (or non-religious) identity. Where 'integration' is used as a code-word for expecting ethnic minorities to reject their own culture and religion it can quickly become fascistic in tendency.

At the same time I believe in creating and nurturing personal relationships between groups and individuals with different religious and cultural backgrounds, in order to create trust, friendship and the possibility of mutual learning and respect. I think that where particular cultural identities are respected and valued (including traditional English, Scots and Welsh identities), people will perhaps feel less threatened and hostile and more confident about building relationship with others who are different.