Cultural Traditions and Identity Politics: Some Implications for Democratic Governance in Asia and the Pacific

SSGM Discussion Paper

Author/s (editor/s):

Stephanie Lawson

Publication year:


Publication type:

Discussion paper

This discussion is principally concerned with the political aspects of one of the most interesting of postcolonial phenomena in Asia and the Pacific. Put briefly, this is to do with the rediscovery or reinvigoration of autochthonous cultural traditions—or at least selected elements of such traditions—in the contemporary period. Movements promoting such traditions are often part of a broader project of postcolonial rebuilding that is promoting renewed pride in a heritage that may have been suppressed or virtually destroyed by colonial powers. The phenomenon is hardly unique to Asia and the Pacific—it has been just as evident in Africa and the Middle East. A similar phenomenon is recognisable also in the heartlands of some former colonial powers. Across Europe, cultural identities are being asserted—at a sub-state level in explicit political forms from Scotland to Catalonia, at a suprastate level across northern Scandinavia by the Sami people, or at the level of the state itself in the case of Germany where the collapse of the Wall has raised perceived problems arising from the reintegration of a suitable, coherent national identity. And it is certainly recognisable in the current nation-building projects of many newly independent countries following the breakdown of the Soviet Empire.

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