Archive for the ‘ CULTURAL PLURALISM ’ Category

diversity of uses


word mapping // community voice inspiring new ground

West Africa // new orleans

In New Orleans, understanding the cultural values of the translocated slaves provides and fertile contexts for understanding part of the dynamic cultural history of the city.  The persistence of traditional West Africa cultural has contributed to the narrative of New Orleans and the development of a multiethnic social structure. In an effort develop a deeper understanding of current social and political culture within the predominately African American neighborhood of St. Roch, expanding the context of the research will provide a richer understanding of the culture and diverse city.

In the eighteenth century the slave trade connected with New Orleans brought slaves from Senegambia in the western region of Africa.    While West Africa had been a central slave trading region for the world through the 17th century, it declined in popularity in 18th century due to shifting political structures outside the continent.  However, New Orleans remained connected to the West African region because of historical ties, political connections and established business partnerships to Senegambia.

In the eighteenth century the majority of the slaves brought to New Orleans originated from the Lands of the Bambara, located between the Senegal and Niger River.  The Bambara are Mande people with a strong tradition in oral history. The knowledge and values embedded in the oral history has been easily transmitted through myths, proverbs and legends.   Although the physical territory of the Mande was fragmented by post-colonial political structure and modernization the culture has been able to persist because of its adaptable framework and oral traditions.

The foundational mythology for the Bambara relates to the development of the universe.  The beliefs are grounded in a complex process of accepting dualities and respecting interconnections. The world developed out of a void in the universe and gradually all of the elements-like sound, spirits and light- were created. Pemba, a wood spirit, was the first ruler and after seven years he created Moussa Koroni.  Moussa was the first woman and she gave birth to animal and vegetables. The common ancestry of humans, flora and fauna ties all living creates together in Bambara culture.  Respecting interconnection in Bambara culture creates a deep respect for life at all levels.   In time Pemba deserted Moussa and she filled with wrath and anger. Faro, the androgynous water spirit, tried to ameliorate her anger but she refused to submit.  Instead Faro established dominance over Pemba, upholding the principle of androgyny as respecting duality within the universe and suppressing sexual impulses. The beauty of the Bambara mythology lies in its resilient, flexible approach to living which provides the framework for living with contradictions.

The Bambara understood valued the understanding of duality and the importance of balance.  The social organization recognizes the importance of both conformers and nonconformists.  Conformist was the understood as the stable family foundation and linguistically it was associated with females.  In contrast, nonconformists were revered as innovators and linguistically it was associated with males. Despite the hierarchal structure of the Bambara, as evidenced by gender roles, participatory democracy is evident within the different levels.  From childhood the Bambara participate in groups segregated by gender.

After the fragmentation of the Mali Empire the Bambara developed new techniques for maintaining connections between migrating spiritual communities.  The objects generated by artisan grew out of a partnership between the craft, the process of creation and spiritual meaning.     Charms called nyama boli were easily transferable and mobile objects symbolizing spiritual connection between distant groups.  The Bambaraian slaves transported to New Orleans took the mobile traditions to New Orleans.  Reinforcing the cultural acceptance of duality, two types of charms representing extremes were produced.  There were charms signifying support and/or power called the Zinzin and others signified harmful charms were known as Grisgris.

In addition to objects, performance was an important mechanism for communicating cultural values. Musical performances were understood as religious activities, similar to an act of praying.  Everyday activities had ceremonial and spiritual significance that strengthen and reinforced the values of the Bambara.

. . .

Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo. African in Colonial Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.

Word Clouds + Graphics // survey



Using a narrative format for some of the survey questions provided the opportunity for personal responses, but it also presents a challenge to quantify and convey the results.   For each narrative response I sorted the answers into general category themes.  From the sum of the different categories I generated a pie chart to get a graphic understanding of the results.  However the pie chart method fails to capture the heart of the response, therefore I tried another technique for making the answers legible to a larger audience.   I choose to make a word clouds for each question.  The frequency of the words in the responses determined their size in each word map.

wordClouds_all.PDF //click PDF for all survey word clouds //  online resource:

Ex. Survey Question #9. What is one of your most important memories of St. Roch?

The numeric questions from the Living in St. Roch Survey have been expressed in pie charts and bar graphs.   The results are generated from 27 surveys gathered in a 24 hour period (2/2011).   I have logged the hand written surveys into an Excel spread sheet as a tool to generate quantifiable results.  The image below quantifies the community’s top concerns and the impact that the issues have on the quality of life in St. Roch.

ALL_GraphicSurveyResults.PDF //click for full survey results

St. Roch Environmental Knowledge Survey

St. Roch Environmental Knowledge and Needs Survey: Final Report
Submitted by Professor Scott Frickel, Environmental Sociology Students, Tulane University

StRochSurveyReport_the greenProject_envAware.PDF


The 2007 report St. Roch Environmental Knowledge and Needs Survey is the result of a collaborative effort from Tulane University’s Center for Public Service and the non-profit the Green Project.   The goal of the study was to gain a better understand about the relationship between the residents of St. Roch and the built environment so that the Green Project could develop an effective outreach programs for the community.  The study will provide an important foundation for the development of the kinesthetic learning experience embedded in the proposed infrastructural retrofits.

“. . . the findings of this survey point to a continued pressing need for deeper community engagement form environmental organizations in New Orleans and highlight the importance of community-based social science in generating knowledge from the ground up.”  Scott Frickel Sociology Professor

Key findings

  • 47.7% of the respondents had little or no knowledge about climate change (global warming in study)
  • 66.7% of the respondents had little or no knowledge about soil toxicity.
  • 51.7%% of the respondents had little or no knowledge about  lead hazards.
  • 66.7% of the respondents (that answered the question) bought soil from the store.
  • 40% of the respondents had little or no knowledge about debris management.
  • 48.7 % of the respondents had little or no knowledge about  air quality.
  • 80 % of the residents do not garden.  Therefore the study concluded that little food is being grown in St. Roch.
  • 18.2% of the respondents answered that the main reason they did not recycling prior to Katrina was a lack of pick up in the neighborhood.
  • 76% of the respondents drink from bottled water from the store.
  • 25% of the respondents drink from the tap.
  • 74% of the respondents use cars as their main mode of transportation
  • 14.6% of the respondents use buses as their main mode of transportation
  • 50% of the respondents own a computer

The survey did not have any questions about water management awareness.

Green Project has a warehouse on Marais St.  (2831 MARAIS ST. NEW ORLEANS, LA 70117)

Cultural Pluralism

Cultural Pluralism (work in progress)

A narrative rooted in ecological process is essential for sustainable design, but the manner in which it is articulated in the built environment is equally important.  Values and biases fluctuate across generations, cultures and economic levels.   There is no universal aesthetic that crosses differential boundaries.  Therefore a meaningful aesthetic promotes experiences that respect local priorities, values and stories.

Without public participation in the development of the built environment, an opportunity to connect environment and culture would be missed.  The French philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu conducted studies to evaluate and quantify the way in which an individual develops aesthetic values.  From his research he found that there was a strong correlation between personal experience and aesthetic perception.  He argued that

a signifier which signifies nothing other than itself, does not consist of considering it ‘without connecting it with anything other than itself, either emotionally or intellectually’ . . . but rather of noting its distinctive stylistic features by relating it to the ensemble of works forming the class to which it belongs, and to these works only.(Weber 2011, 36) In his study of aesthetics and perception Bourdieu argues that art as a signifier is not universally understood due to variations in socialization processes among different individuals and cultures.  A key component of his philosophical research explored how human perceptions are based in an individual’s habitus.  Bourdieu defines habitus as the way in which schema is constructed over time through an individual’s experiences and environment. The experiences and memories that construct an individual’s habitus shape a person’s identity by defining meaning and values.   A sustainable and meaningful aesthetic should therefore recognize the values and narrative of the local community to develop designs that are relevant and significant to the community.

Similar to Bourdieu’s studies on the importance of habitus in shaping an individual’s values, Randolph Hester, a landscape architect, promotes community driven design as a way to create meaningful places for the immediate users.  In Hester’s seminal book, Design for Ecological Democracy, he outlines his philosophical approach for community building that focuses on relationships and interconnectivity between people and their environments. He argues that because social class is “the single most telling indicator of environmental values and behavior, city designers need to have a sympathetic understanding of the power play but also in nuanced expressions of symbolism.” (Hester 2006, 114).   Design for Ecological Democracy embraces two critical post-modernist methods of thinking that include principles from ecological science and participatory democracy.  His design philosophy strives to engender interdependency and understanding between people, cultural narratives and urban ecological systems. The development of the public realm, therefore, can aid in the development of a sustainable future by revealing endemic narratives and promoting cultural equity that fosters a multivalent dialogue between diverse communities.

St. Roch // Living in St. Roch survey

St. Roch // Living in St. Roch survey 2011/02

St.Roch Survey_08.PDF

Summary The goal of the survey is to gain a better understand of what is important to the residents and to develop an understanding of significant cultural narratives for the neighborhood.    I was able to collect 27 surveys using the 3 survey methods in a period of 24 hours.

Methods I used three different methods to conduction the survey.

Door to Door

Nika, a member of the St. Roch Community Church, and I walked down Marigny St. from Derbign St. to St. Claude Ave for two hours.  Of the three survey methods, door to door allowed me to meet some of the elderly and less mobile members of the community.  My general impress was that there was a sense of hopelessness, a fear of leaving the home and disappointment that the neighborhood was ‘not what it used to be.’  Nika made this method possible. I would not have been able to do it without someone from the community.

St. Roch Community Church (following an evening event)

A church leader made an announcement after the meeting and encouraged individuals to participate in the survey.  The meeting was racial mixed group of younger residents.  In general there was a greater sense of hope and optimism for the community at SRCC than on I experienced walking on the streets.  This was the most effective survey method that I used, although if I used it by itself, it would not be representative of the larger community.

St. Roch Neighborhood Association Meeting

After a brief introduction from the president of the St. Roch Neighborhood Association (NAM) meeting I gave a statement about the research project. I laid out the goals and emphasized that I would be sharing the research with the community at the end of the process. In attendance was a small group of residents, a couple of neighborhood police officers, and non-profit representatives.  On the same evening, at a different event there was a meeting about neighborhood schooling options.  The residents did not want to have the Carter (?) school return as a KIPP school. ( Many of the members attended that event instead of the NAM because educational opportunities are underrepresented in St. Roch. Anecdotally it was explained that may of the children are bussed uptown at 7 in the morning and do not return until after 7 in the evening.     The image below is the flyer that was e-mail to the NAM members.


Critic of Process

1.   The way that the questions were worded on the survey effected the quality and depth of the responses.  After the narrative based questions I added some possible suggestion to stimulate ideas thinking that this would help to stimulate responses. In many of the surveys this resulted in circling the suggestions and the participant did not expand on the ideas.   As a result the why/what/who part of the question was not answered.

2. The cognitive mapping component of the survey was largely left blank. For a community that has been inundated with surveys since Katrina the mapping question was a different method for conveying knowledge. I think it was not well understood and it way the last question on the survey.  In the future more time would need to be spent explaining the approach and its value.