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Fabricating the Community: Textile Tourism in the European Periphery

Ideas of community are often linked to the people and way of life in a particular locality. This simple geographical relationship has, however, become problematised as comunities have become more diverse and globalisation has created increasing
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  Fabricating the Community: Textile Tourism in the European Periphery Greg Richards Tilburg University Ideas of community are often linked to the people and way of life in a particular locality. This simple geographical relationship has, however, become problematised as comunities have become more diverse and globalisation has created increasing interdependencies between people in disparate locations. In Europe we are currently involved in a debate about the nature of ‘community’ at a transnational scale. The European Community, srcinally based purely on economic ties, is seeking ways to underpin closer economic, political and social union. In its search for communalities to bind Europe together, the EU has hit on culture as the magic glue for the new Europe. Culture is being used by the European Community to try and resolve the central dichotomy of Europea n Union: globalisation and localisation. ‘Europe’ has to pull together to face the global economic and political threat from the other major trading blocs, America and Japan, while at the same time reacting to increasing calls for devolution of power and recognition of regional and local diversity. According to the European Union, Europe is not only characterised by its diversity of local, regional and national cultures, but also by a common ‘European culture’ which binds Europeans together. This concept o f ‘unity through diversity’ is also one of the crucial links between EU cultural policy and EU tourism policy (Richards, 1996). This has become particularly clear in the development of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which has always been one of the major means of supporting tourism development in the European regions, but since the inclusion of culture as a competence of the EU under the Maastricht Treaty has also become a vehicle for cultural development. A program me to develop ‘cultural   networks’ linking European regions was launched under the ERDF in January 1997. The aim of this programme is to use culture as a means of creating distinctive local heritage, while at the same time providing access to a ‘European dimension’ through netwo rking. By networking at European level, it is hoped that economies of scale will be achieved in developing economic initiatives in the cultural field.  A large number of projects approved under this programme use tourism to aid regional development and strengthen local cultures in disadvantaged regions. This paper examines the ATLAS EUROTEX project, which seeks to develop crafts tourism as a means of supporting textile crafts. It is the first attempt to address some important questions raised by the project , including whether there is a common ‘textile culture’ in Europe. The EUROTEX project involves partners from Portugal (Alto Minho), Greece (Rethymnon) and Finland (Lapland), and is jointly led by ATLAS and the City of Tilburg (NL), a former textile manufacturing centre. Textiles were chosen as the focus of the project because of the widespread nature of textile crafts production, and because of the essential links between local culture and economy and the production and design of textiles. In spite of the many similarities between textile crafts in the three regions, essential differences in the organisation of production and the textile products are dictated by the textile culture present in each region, and its linkages with local agriculture, industry and more recently, forms of tourism develop-ment.  A central premise of the project is that the most effective way of promoting traditional textile crafts in Europe is to provide producers with access to market information and outlets for their products. The growth of tourism in the peripheral areas of Europe provides an excellent opportunity to develop direct access to local markets for textile crafts. In addition, the increa-  sing need among tourists for expereince of authentic craft production techniques means that tourists can provide support not ony through purchase of the final product, but also through display of the production process. The resulting expansion of the market for textile handicrafts provides local employment and generates funds for the preservation of the material heritage. In this way, both the material and the living heritage can be effectively conserved and developed. In order to unlock the heritage tourism potential of textile production in peripheral areas, these regions must be brought in contact which each other, so that skills and know-how related to production and marketing can be exchanged and developed. In addition, the peripheral regions can benefits from an exchange of information and know-how with regions in which the development of heritage tourism and tourism marketing is most developed. The objectives of the project are as follows: 1) To promote decentralised cooperation between local and regional authorities in the development and support of textile handicrafts and heritage in the EU 2) Preserving and developing textile handicraft skills in local communities, thus developing employment opportunities 3) Helping local communities to effectively exploit their textile heritage by exchanging information on production, distribution and marketing techniques 4) Bringing textile crafts to a wider audience through the promotion of textile-related tourism 5) Dissemination of information on textile crafts through new media. The work of the project therefore involves a wide range of measures implemented over a two year period, and involving close cooperation between partners in different areas of Europe. Because one of the basic aims of the EU in promoting such measures is to generate innovatory approaches to networking and cooperation, one of the most important elements of the project involves building local and transnational networks, and exchanging information between different cultures. These problems mirror the difficulties involved in creating economic and political union in Europe - how can the very different cultural approaches to communication, cooperation and management be reconciled with each other? These issues become even more important as the role of governments in initiating and regulating contacts between regions and nations declines. The withdrawal of goverment into a ‘facilitating role’ is in many areas stimulating the development of ‘third sector’ networks, or voluntary associations of individuals and institutions focussed on specific social, economic or political issues (Richards, 1997). At local and national level, such networks can often fall back on public sector support. Transnational third sector networks (such as ATLAS, for example) very seldom receive structural support from public sources, but have to rely mainly on their members for financial support. It is in this context that the development of innovatory appraoches to network formation is particularly important. The basic issue to reconcile the predominantly local funding base for economic development with the need to develop transnational cooperation. Ad hoc appro-aches adopted in the past have included town twinning and international associations of local authorities, and partnerships between local authorities and the private sector, as in the case of the Art Cities network (Richards, 1996). The basic development which the Article 10 projects are supposed to support in the field of culture is the development of ‘devolved netw orks’. These are basically groups of local authorities which will work on a transnational baisi to address commen problems. The supposed advantage of this approach is that the local authorities can provide local financing to support transnational activities. The  disadvantge is that the terms on which cooperation occurs are clearly laid down by the European Commission, and funding from the Commission is dependent on these terms being met. This raises the question of how ‘devolved’ such networks can be, and whether local democracy is being undermined by centralised intervention. These questions are of course central to the development of such third sector networks, since one of the critical success factors for such networks is the extent to which the basis of coop-eration can be shifted from a zero sum to a positive sum game (Richards, 1997). Unless the partners in the network feel that they can achieve some degree of autonomy within the net-work, the basis of cooperation is likely to be damaged. Differences over how such ‘devolved networks’ should be run are also likely to arise if the cultural context within which partner operates is not taken into account. The involvement of the European Commission suggests that the project should be run in accordance with the norms of a ‘European Culture’, which in the context of these projects is enshrined in the ‘Project Leaders Handbook’ produced by the Commission. However, the ethos of efficiency and centralised control contained in this document must also be reconciled with the very different local cultures involved in the cultural network projects. As these projects are by definition transnational, and must include at least three different countries or regions, the potential for cultural dissonance is always present. There is some discussion about the extent to which a ‘European culture’ as envisaged by the Europen Union exists. Studies of values in different European countries indicate that there is “an underlying structure of values which is remarkable unified ..... demonstrating an internal logic which transcends national and linguistic boundaries (Harding and Phillips, 1986). Work in the cultural studies field, however, tends to suggest a far less homogeneous picture. Hofstede (1980:25) has examined the issue of national cultural differencesand he defines national culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or society from those of another”. Although Hofstede has worked at national level, one could use the same definition to distinguish local or regional cultures as well. Based on survey data, Hofstede identified four work-related cultural dimensions which enabled national cultures to be differentiated. These are ‘individualism vs collectivism’, ‘large vs small pow er distance’, ‘strong vs weak uncertainty avoidance’ and ‘masculinity vs femininity’. There has recently been some discussion in the literature as to the meaning of Hofstede’s dimensions, and whether cultures can be considered to behave in the linear fashion he suggests. His model does, however, provide an intersting starting point for a discussion of cultural difference and the effect that this is likely to have on transnational cooperation. The European member states differ widely in terms of power distance and uncertainty avoidance. In general, the Germanic and Anglo Saxon cultures have a low power distance, or acceptance of unequal power distribution, and a low degree of uncertainty avoidance, which indicates more tolerance of unce rtainty and ambiguity. The ‘Latin’ cultures on the other hand, have a high power distance and high uncertainty avoidance. If Hofstede is right (and he is not without his critics), this means that the way in which southern Europeans approach networking and cooperation is likely to be very different from the approach adopted in most northern European countries. This kind of cultural difference means that not only are the practical problems faced by project partners in different cultures likely to differ signficantly, but that the perceived solutions to common problems are likely to differ as well. These issues are important not only for the success of transnational projects, but to the success of the entire ‘European Project’ of the European Union.   Developing Cultural Networks in Practice: The EUROTEX Project The paper uses the experience of the first few months of the EUROTEX project to illustrate the practical challenges of implementing devolved networks in Europe. Consideration is given to the context of textile crafts production in each region, and the ways in which tourism can be  used to help support the textile culture of each region. Attention is also paid to the common problems which face all of the regions, and the ways in which the lessons learned from this project can be made more widely applicable to communities in other regions. Europe has a particularly rich and diverse heritage of textile crafts and technology. This heritage is now making an increasingly important contribution to the stimulation of heritage and cultural tourism in both the core and peripheral regions of Europe. While the modern clothing industry is dominated by cheap imports from outside the EU, small-scale production of textile craft goods provides an essential source of employment for local people in peripheral areas, and can also provide an important authentic local product for sale to visitors to the region. Tourism is often seen as an effective means of economic development in peripheral regions. Tourists are keen to visit areas of unspoilt natural beauty and authentic cultural heritage. Tourism also provides an essential boost to craft industries in peripheral regions, because tourists want to purchase goods and souvenirs which are considered 'typical' cultural products of the region they are visiting. However, many of the goods and services which tourists consume often have to be 'imported' from other regions, causing high economic leakages and loss of employment opportunities in disadvantaged regions. Unless local production can be stimulated, tourism development is often economically and culturally unsustainable. Textile crafts production is particularly suited to sustainable development, since local materi-als and labour are employed. Specific methods and forms of textile production are also closely associated with specific regions, such as Shetland Wool and Harris Tweed in Scotland, or Arran sweaters in Ireland. Thus products can be offered to tourists which support the local economic base, as well as providing authentic cultural artifacts of the region. The ability of crafts producers to take advantage of this market is limited, however, by two important factors: 1) Dying Out of Traditional Crafts Traditional methods of crafts production are often in danger of dying out as the younger generation leaves rural areas, and the source of new entrants drys up. Craft production is also threatened by global competition from manufactured textiles, which has already decimated the textile industry in Europe (as cities such as Tilburg and Bradford have found to their cost). There is a need to maximise the employment potential of textile crafts, and to support skill development opportunities for those willing to learn traditional methods of working. 2) Lack of Information and Marketing Skills Textile craft producers are not always in a good position to take advantage of the heritage tourism market. Effective marketing of textile products requires an understanding of the needs of tourists, access to effective distribution channels and skills in design, sales and marketing. Textile producers also need to make their products known to those responsible for marketing the tourism product, such as local tourist boards and tour operators, in order to persuade them to feature textiles as an integral part of the regional tourism product. Supporting the development of the living textile heritage of Europe therefore requires the conservation of traditional craft skills, alongside the development of new skills in the area of tourism management and marketing. These developments can best be supported through the exchange of skills and know-how between different regions of Europe. In some areas, for example, systems of skill transfer and marketing are well developed, while in other areas crafts are dying out because of a lack of skilled labour or access to markets. Because craft production is necessarily small scale, and because producers are widely dispersed, such information exchange is difficult.   The experience of the EUROTEX project to date, however, indicates that these common problems are mediated in each region by local factors. In particular, the health of local crafts production is very different in each area. The following comparisons are made on the basis of subjective observations during project visits in each region. Further data is now being collec-ted in each of the regions to provide a fuller picture of the textile crafts situation. Portugal   Textile production is a source of additional income for many agricultural workers. Local products, such as flax and wool are used to make carpets and garments, most of which are sold to local people or visitors from othe parts of Portugal. Techniques and equipment are largely handed down through the generations, and the depopulation which is affecting many areas of the Alto Minho is now beginning to take its toll. Over time, the process of textile production has become steadily more commodified, with a greater proportion of goods being produced for sale rather than own use. The development of market production has, however taken place in a fairly piecemeal fashion because of the relatively individualistic nature of the local people. In contrast to the south of Portugal, cooperative enterprises are relatively rare.  At the same time, there is a limit to the extent of entrepreneurship in the region, because the agricultural community is orientated towards earning the minimum wage (about 250 euro per month) rather than increasing living standards beyond this level. The lack of cooperative marketing systems or entrepreneurial networks means that the textile production system is relatively fragmented, and many individuals are considering stopping production because sales are poor. There is a tendency for local people to look for external solutions to such problems, such as the arrival of money from Brussels. External funding has in the past been aimed more at ‘hardware’ rather than ‘software’, which means a profusion  of beautifully restored buildings, many of which are underused. This arguably creates a culture of dependen cy, in which outside ‘aid’ is expected and relied upon. There is very poor linkage between textile production and tourism. There is no information in English or other foreign languages about textile products or producers.There are few opportunities for tourists to see production taking place. Most of the tourist shops in Viana do Castelo sell cheaper items imported from elsewhere, while crafts producers find it difficult to sell their products. Greece  In Crete the context of crafts production is rather different, thanks largely to the development of the tourism industry. There is an established demand for textile products among tourists visiting Crete. A recent survey of Dutch tourists visitng the island indicated that over a third of all tourists bought textiles of some kind. In many cases textile purchases were limited to T-shirts and other items produced as souvenirs, but a significant number of tourists also bought more traditional items, such as embroidered tablecloths. In the mountain village of Anogia at one stage every house had a loom, but these are not bing used on a large scale today, according to the locals because of competition from cheap im-ports. Individual entrepreneurs have begun to dev elop ‘experiences’ for tourism consumption in order to boost their income. In Anogia there are shops with looms in the window where tourists can see cloth being woven. Part of the problem is caused by the way in which the textiles are marketed. Shops in Anogia sell both hand made items and factory made cloth without making a clear distinction between the two. Although the tourists can see the textiles being produced, there is no indication which items are made locally, and which are imported. The direct link between the local environment (sheep wander the streets), local culture and the production of items for tourist consumption is
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