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Last updated: 05/12/2005

Cultural and social analysis


What is a cultural and social analysis?

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Cultural and
social analysis

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A generic definition

Cultural and social analysis has its origins in sociology and anthropology.

In his reference book "Economy and Society", Max Weber described sociology as "a science, whose objective is to understand social activities through interpretations, with a view to explaining the causal chains for the process of these activities, as well as their impacts" (Weber, 1922).

Basically, sociology examines groups which constitute societies, interaction processes between these groups and the effects of these interactions on other fields, such as economics, law, and education.

Anthropology studies the biological and cultural evolution of humanity, and questions the symbolic meanings in social behaviour, be it economic, domestic or ritualistic. Thus, the two reference disciplines studying cultural and social events are anthropology and sociology.

In the development field

Sociology and anthropology have supported the development field as a result of the contribution of well-known specialists, such as Michael Cernea. He fostered the application of sociology and development anthropology at the World Bank in the sixties, and, since then, his many publications have highlighted the constructive role played by the social sciences in development strategies.

"To carry out in practice this rationale for social research, forecasting, and design, the development sociologist or anthropologist possesses and contributes to the store of professional knowledge about social organization and cultural systems necessary for inducing development with larger gains and fewer pains" (Cernea, 1995).

The first world summit for social development, held in Copenhagen in March 1995, is still a major reference point for cultural and social analysis in the field of development.

Definition applied to country/region evaluations

When applied to country/region evaluations, cultural and social analysis deals with society from the perspective of its structures and dynamics. It brings out the constituent elements of ethnicity, social and religious groups, interest groups and the characteristics supporting the common values of a society, as well as its internal contradictions.

Cultural and social analysis does not only focus on baseline structures, but also on factors introducing endogenous and exogenous changes within societies. It provides a basis for the understanding of the behaviour of societies towards development co-operation (societies considered as a whole, or individual groups comprising societies).

With this approach, the evaluation aims at understanding how dynamics within society, social hierarchies, social relations based on gender, religious beliefs and the common perceptions of labour, money, wealth and poverty will influence the acceptance and implementation of co-operation programmes.

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