In response to the many crises we are facing today as a result of the materialist, economy-driven emphasis of mainstream western civilisation, 3rd Space is a forum for ‘unlearning’, for re-kindling our imaginations. It’s a space to explore alternative perspectives from both western and non-western cultures around the world. We host inter-civilisational gatherings and dialogues, and offer ‘immersive journeys’ – an opportunity to spend time interning in ‘live’ projects in India, discovering another civilisation from the inside.
Climate change, global communication, feminism and racial inequalities are alerting us to different ways of knowing, living and being that are more integrated, less hierarchical, and more wholistic. At 3rd Space we seek out and highlight these alternatives from around the world. Through the 3rd Spaces we feature – both in-depth critiques and innovative counter-narratives – we seek to contribute to re-defining modernity.
Through inter-civilisational dialogue, 3rd Space explores new perspectives by engaging with the diverse forms of knowledge in the world – both contemporary and ancient. We see as critical to this conversation those civilisations, such as India, China, Africa and Latin America, that despite having resisted the hegemony of the west, have been marginalised as a result of colonial legacies. These are civilisations that have successfully produced holistically orientated societies for centuries.
The understanding of existential principles embedded in these non-western cultures—their lack of reliance on abstract thinking; their fluency in the symbiotic nature of living systems; their traditions of decentralisation and inter-relationship with nature, are essential contributions, we believe, in addressing the current crises we are facing.
An example is the concept of Dharma in India. Often misunderstood in the west as meaning simply ‘religion’, there is no equivalent word in the english language. The meaning of dharma is fundamental to an understanding of Indian culture. Dharma can be said to be a vision of wholeness, of integration, where self and other, human and divine, humanity and nature, form together an interdependent cosmos. Traditionally all members and groups of the socio-political world, including the sovereign king, were bound together in the maintenance of Dharma. To follow dharma, is to be in conformity with the law that sustains the universe. At the same time, not being a fixed determinant or doctrine, but bound by the contingencies of change, what it means to act in accordance with dharma is often subtle, as it depends not only on motive, but on the unique factors of any given circumstance.
An example in the Andes areas of Latin America is the notion of buen vivir or ‘good living’. This is an indigenous concept that derives from the Quechua words sumac kawsay. It has played a key role in a number of social movements in Latin America, such as in the Zapastista communities. Buen vivir refers to “the participation of human beings in a vital collectivity of cosmic character, that is to say in close relationality..with nature.” In this way of thinking there is no separation between the human, nature and the cosmos. Relationality in fact, exists here prior to subject and object, and prior to Being. As Raimon Panikkar puts it, “Reality is relation.” In political terms this could be seen as an ethics of social justice, where political power is grounded in relationality. It is where the act of speaking is inseparable from the act of listening. This is a relationality that is beyond the present and reaches out to the past, to memory and to ancestors. The past is alive in the present in this sense, and a source of strength and understanding to the community.
In South Africa, there is the example of Ubuntu, which has been called the root of African philosophy. It is explained as two words in one. There is the prefix ubu- and the stem nutu-. Ubu- evokes the idea of be-ing, before it manifests as any particular entity. As be-ing Ubu is always orientated towards unfoldment, that is incessant, continuous manifestation through particular forms and modes of being. In this sense, ubu-is always orientated towards -nutu. -Ntu is the point which at which be-ing assumes concrete from. There is, in fact, no literal separation between ubu-and -nutu. They are not two separate realities. Rather, they are mutually founding in the sense that they are two aspects of be-ing as one-ness and indivisible whole-ness. Ubuntu is derived from a Nguni (isiZulu) aphorism: ubuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which can be translated as, “a person is a person because of or through others.” Ubuntu is the basis of South African communal cultural life. It expresses the interconnectedness, common humanity and the responsibility of individuals to each other.
In Taiwan and elsewhere in East Asia, there is the concept of minjian. This can be translated as ‘people’s or folk society.’ But not precisely, as min means people or populous, and jian designates space and in-betweenness. Minjian is the space where traditions have been maintained to help common people survive the rupture of modernisation. Rather than disappearing as a result of modernisation, they have evolved and adapted in response. During the 21st September 1999 earthquake in Taiwan, minjian groups were the first to step in to help victims with clothing, food, shelter and re-construction. These ‘non-state’ mutual-aid systems, such as clans, street vendors, or religious organisations, have always existed in East Asia. They function as a type of moral networking sphere to the needs of common people. They provide, for example, a mechanism for dealing with the harsh life of rural migrant workers in China’s modern cities. They are central to such continuities as the lunar calendar, seen as backward and superstitious by the state, but still used in festivals, markets and temples. The annual festival for Mazu, the sea goddess, is another example of minjian resistance. After years of attempted suppression by the state, it is now attracting thousands of followers from Taiwan and China. In 2000 it created a controversy when Taiwanese pilgrims claimed they should be allowed to travel directly to the Chinese mainland for the festival, ignoring the official ban on direct travel between the countries. Minjian remains in constant negotiation with civil society and the state, regardless of who is in power.
The purpose of these forums is an expansion of consciousness – an awakening to the universal nature of existence at the level of being – as the foundation for effecting practicable change. In this way, 3rd Space aims to generate and support events, projects and policies that address from a wholistic perspective, the issues that confront us today.