Progressing in culture

What is culture and how does it affect a country’s progress as a whole? “Culture is something that is learned as a kid in the home, then in school and on the street,” said Lawrence Harrison during a lecture delivered Thursday as part of the USF Globalization Research Center’s Globalization Speaker Series.

Harrison outlined a group of points that are the backbone of his new book entitled Culture Matters, which he said should be published “hopefully at the end of 2005.” Harrison has had a long career in international development, during which he served as the director of USAID missions to Nicaragua, Haiti and Costa Rica and has also published several books and articles on the issues of international development. Harrison is a senior research fellow and adjunct lecturer at Tufts University.

Harrison laid out what he called the “typology of progress-prone and progress-resistant cultures.” This typology is a collection of cultural influences that determine “how culture affects the progress of a country.” The 24-point typology that Harrison has created is further broken down into four main groups of influences, including a culture’s worldview, values, economic behavior and social behavior.

“It is culture, not politics, that can change a country,” Harrison said, quoting the late Sen. Patrick Moyhan.

Harrison discussed “behaviors in a consistent pattern that we can call value systems,” and how they function in the progress of a country’s development. He generically separates value systems into two theoretical groups. “It is possible to construct two ideal value systems. One including only values that favor economic development and the other that include values that resist it.”

“No nation falls completely within either of these two value systems,” explained Harrison. “However, some nations approach the extreme of being favorable to economic development, while other approach the opposite extreme.”

A nation’s dominant religion is one important factor of Harrison’s typology. “Religion is a major force for progress to the extent that it nurtures rationality in all activity. It promotes ethical behavior and the accumulation of wealth,” Harrison said.

Harrison also touched on a country’s education system. For progress-prone culture, “education is indispensable and promotes autonomy.” For progress-resistant cultures, “education is less of a priority and it promotes dependency.”

Many slowly developing areas of the world can be characterized by the typologies that Harrison developed. However, “the typologies are in black and white,” Harrison explained. “Reality is more of a gray.”

Harrison hopes that the broad spectrum of influences that he has proposed may one day help the world’s countries work unanimously towards healthy development and globalization.