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Symbols are a special form of presentation. They are of special importance in embodying significance and giving focus to any campaign or programme and in establishing its identity in relation to other initiatives. Whilst much work has been done on symbols in order to market commercial products or political parties, almost none has been done on their value in communicating the key ideas associated with development strategies. In the case of international campaigns, a common approach is to select the central symbol through an international competition. This totally neglects the psycho-cultural functions of sets of symbols already active in society.
Furthermore, when advocating or imposing the use of particular international sets of values, needs or qualities, it is not recognized that these effectively compete as functional substitutes in traditional societies with other sets of qualities represented by hierarchies of gods, spiritual beings, or natural phenomena perceived as governing those qualities or some of them. Such fundamental sets advocated by the international community are indeed designed to perform many of the regulatory functions previously ascribed to supernatural beings or potencies.
Given the relative rapidity with which such sets are now formulated - compared to the long cultural refinement of a pantheon - it is not surprising if they are viewed as artificial, bloodless and unrelated to the complex pattern of qualities associated with traditional sets of symbols. These are so meaningfully represented (with nested levels of significance) through richly decorated beings and memorable tales exemplifying their relationships, that the qualities and their representation are difficult to distinguish in a particular culture.
The lack of success of public information programmes, using a confusion of unrelated symbolic gimmicks, is therefore understandable. There would therefore seem to be a need to understand the range of symbols that remain active in society and which, as a cultural resource, can be called upon to give focus to international programmes.
The 103 entries were produced as an editorial experiment to identify classes of symbols considered of significance in traditional and modern cultures. As such they offer a means of ordering the large amount of material available on individual symbols.
The information used was obtained from a wide range of specialized reference books.
A keyword index to entries is provided in Section MX. The keywords are also incorporated into the index for Volume 2 (Section X)
Bibliographical references, by author, are given in Section MY.
Detailed comments are given in Section MZ.
The information given here clearly represents the results of a very preliminary move towards grouping together information on symbols. It is therefore serves mainly as an indication of directions for further exploration.
Possible future improvement
There is a great deal of material available on individual symbols. It should be possible to present entries highlighting the relationships between symbols whilst avoiding the need to reproduce such available information at length. A guideline could well be the need to produce patterns of culturally significant symbols which provide a focus for understanding the relationships between the social processes and phenomena with which they are associated. Of special interest is the possibility of extensively cross-referencing individual symbols to the particular values in Section V with which they are associated, since symbols have traditionally offered a way of ordering and presenting information on values and value complexes.
This work is licensed by Anthony Judge
under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.