What are transnational cultural relations?

In the previous step, we have explored the notion of international cultural relations. While “international” refers to relations between separate nations, the notion of “transnational” has been introduced to reflect the interactions that go beyond national boundaries. The notion of transnational cultural relations relies on the recognition of the fact that a rising number of people belong to different places at the same time, due to migrations and the use of new technologies. As a result, they carry more than one national culture and can create bonds between countries.

Due to the increased mobility of people across borders and to the possibilities offered by new technologies, migrant communities are now able to maintain strong ties with their countries of origin and they no longer need to abandon their culture.

Until the past century, when people moved to a new country they tended to progressively lose contact with their country of origin. With the emergence of new technologies that have enabled new forms of transnational cultural relations, nowadays this is less the case. It first became possible to listen to music and radio, and to watch movies of countries of origin. Later on, the Internet accelerated the rate and intensity of communications and costs were reduced drastically.

Transnational cultural relations can take a wide variety of forms. They rely mainly on individuals or on loosely formalised organisations. On the one hand, grassroots transnational cultural relations can include spiritual and religious networks that extend across borders, like evangelical or Buddhist communities. Indeed, people who move to a country sometimes bring with them their own spiritual and religious practices and want to be able to exercise them in the country where they settle. Moreover, transnational civic movements can gather people across borders to foster solidarity with people in the country of origin, or around specific issues like the struggle against discrimination. Culture often plays a central role in such movements in order to build a sense of community despite the distance. On the other hand, as a result of the constant circulation of people in festivals, biennials and cultural sector meetings, a rising number of artists and cultural producers have become transnational professionals and work in cultural businesses and institutions carrying with them their cultural background, knowledge, tastes, and professional norms. This new way in which culture is produced, leads to more hybrid cultural contents that can be influenced by both traditional cultures and innovations originating in different countries.

These emerging processes raise new questions for public policies. With the growing possibilities of people interaction, do we still need intermediaries to organise the relations between cultures? What is the role of public policies in transnational cultural relations?

The major part of cultural exchanges and relations happen without direct state intervention, in fields such as film production, arts, and sciences. Nevertheless, states do have the capacities to put in place obstacles and restrictions to the movements of people and the circulation of cultural goods. The national frameworks in which cultural and educational institutions operate can dramatically affect their capacity to attract and welcome foreign professionals, artists or students.

In sum, the reflection on public policies through the perspective of transnational cultural relations invites us to go beyond foreign policy. It suggests that internal policies and external policies have become increasingly intertwined, and that it is often internal policies that determine the position of a country on the international stage.

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Cultural Diplomacy

European University Institute (EUI)

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