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I had the honour last week of giving the inaugural lecture within the recently established UNESCO Chair for Cultural Diversity and Social Justice at Deakin University. I will write about the key theoretical arguments in the lecture in a separate post, but wanted to say a few words about the importance of international agencies such as the UNESCO in promoting and sustaining international peace and social harmony. UNESCO, among all UN agencies, is the prime vehicle for building higher institutions’ capacity in specific areas of scholarship through exchange, collaboration, knowledge transfer and sharing in the spirit of international solidarity. It is also the key agency that looks after cultural heritage in all its forms and variations throughout the world. It works towards protecting cultural and archaeological sites represent and belong to all humanity and not just the state or territory where they happen to exist. But UNESCO has more recently concerned itself with genuine broader social justice issues. In fact, the Deakin UNESCO Chair, which I have the privilege and honour to be its holder, will function as a leading research and policy ‘think tank’ focussed on all matters pertaining to cultural diversity and social justice. It will act as a key bridge builder between researchers, civil society organisations and policy makers, both nationally and internationally.
Premised on a social justice and human rights-based approach, the activities of Chair will contribute to capacity building in the key areas of governance, education and the management of cultural diversity both in Australia and internationally. We will initiate and coordinate collaborative research on youth from vulnerable communities and Least Developed Countries, focussing on the critical questions of marginalisation, social exclusion, identity formation, discrimination, radicalisation, violence and security.
UNESCO seeks to promote the values of tolerance and understanding through dialogue, in the pursuit of peace and human development. Recognition of diversity and social justice constitutes the foundation upon which such goals are to be conceptualized, pursued and achieved. Our work within this Chair will be underpinned by a vision of culture as a key tool (a genuine fourth pillar) for sustainable development and as a conduit for achieving ethical engagement with and solidarity between various communities and cultures.
Cultural Diversity and Social Justice represent a fundamental dimension of UNESCO’s priorities. A significant challenge however remains as to how to accommodate cultural diversity, with its underlying notion of ‘difference’, whilst maintaining an over-arching social cohesion and a sense of belonging within broader society.