Switzerland/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.2 National definition of culture

The principles of federalism and double subsidiarity combined with the fact that Switzerland has four official languages and a high number of inhabitants from various cultural backgrounds (foreign nationals make up for more than 20% of the Swiss population), make it very difficult to provide a national definition of culture (see chapter 4.2.4).

Switzerland has neither a homogenous national culture nor a clear national identity. The common culture is far more a question of permanent efforts to keep the cultural diversity of our country alive under a common functional roof. The main aspects of these efforts are measures for promoting comprehension and solidarity between the different linguistic regions and cultures of Switzerland.

Switzerland's notion of culture is aligned with that of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO): "In its widest sense, culture may now be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterise a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs." UNESCO's definition is complex and reaches beyond a narrow understanding of culture restricted to art. Culture is thus seen as a central factor of political and social life, an effective instrument for safeguarding social integration and social cohesion. Active cultural policy is therefore not limited to promoting the production of art and to preserving the cultural heritage. Cultural policy instead aims to involve as many population groups in cultural life as possible. Two key concepts of cultural policy are access to culture and cultural education. However, culture is not a separate area of politics if human action is understood as cultural. In political practice, if culture is regarded as a starting point for public services, a broad sociological concept of culture must be distinguished from a narrow practical concept. The first concept both orients and underpins cultural policy, whereas the second encompasses the classical and modern branches of the arts, including popular and lay art as well as tangible and intangible cultural heritage.


Chapter published: 12-11-2014


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