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«Globalization, Culture, and Identities in Crisis Robert J. Lieber∗,‡ and Ruth E. Weisberg† Culture in its various forms now serves as a primary ...»

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International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 16, No. 2, Winter 2002 ( C 2002)

Globalization, Culture, and Identities in Crisis

Robert J. Lieber∗,‡ and Ruth E. Weisberg†

Culture in its various forms now serves as a primary carrier of globalization

and modern values, and constitutes an important arena of contestation for

national, religious, and ethnic identity. Although reactions in Europe, Japan,

and other societies where modern values prevail, tend to be symbolic, in areas of the developing world, especially in Muslim countries where traditional values and radically different notions of identity and society predominate, reactions tend to be very intense and redirected at external targets through forms of transference and scapegoating. Ultimately, this is not so much a clash between civilizations as a clash within civilizations.

KEY WORDS: culture; globalization; identity; transference; backlash.

GLOBALIZATION AND CULTURE

Globalization and its discontents has taken on huge significance in the aftermath of September 11th. Driven by the end of the Cold War, a dramatic surge in international trade, investment and finance, and the onset of the information revolution, the subject had attracted growing attention for more than a decade. However, the traumatic events of 9/11, the nihilistic rage evident in the destruction of the World Trade Center, and the issues that have arisen in its aftermath provide an enormous new impetus.

Until very recently, analyses of globalization have emphasized eco- nomics and politics rather than culture. Definitions of globalization abound, ∗ Professorof Government & Foreign Service, Department of Government, Georgetown Uni- versity, Washington, DC.

† Dean, School of Fine Arts, University of Southern California, Watt Hall 103, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0292.

‡ Correspondence should be directed to Robert J. Lieber, Professor of Government & Foreign Service, Department of Government, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057-1034;

e-mail: lieberr@georgetown.edu.

273 0891-4486/02/1200-0273/0 2002 Human Sciences Press, Inc.

C 274 Lieber and Weisberg but for our purposes it can be described as the increasing global integra- tion of economies, information technology, the spread of global popular culture, and other forms of human interaction.1 In the polarized discus- sion of the subject, one side has tended to be relentlessly optimistic and, at least until the September attacks, enthusiasm about globalization as a whole was sometimes accompanied by an almost blissful naivete about the information revolution as an unalloyed blessing. In the words of Bill Clinton shortly before leaving the presidency, “In the newcentury, liberty will be spread by cell phone and cable modem.”2 On the other side, globalization inspires dire warnings about its disruptions or dangers as well as organized protests, editorials and marches against its perceived inequities and abuses.

As an artist and a political scientist, our contribution to this discussion is to probe the intersection of culture and politics. The effect is synergistic, in that by doing so we gain insights that neither a focus on culture nor politics alone can provide. An apt analogy exists with the study of political economy, which explores the interplay of politics and economics in shaping international affairs. Often, examining events through a combination of two disciplines provides texture and understanding in ways that an exclusive disciplinary view does not allow.3 As a result, the combination of perspectives from culture and politics can offer comparably rich insights. While others have made reference to culture, they have tended to privilege politics and economics. One author who has emphasized culture is Samuel Huntington.

In his writing on the “Clash of Civilizations,”4 he has argued that with the end of the Cold War and its contest of ideologies, and as a result of disruptions brought by modernization, urbanization and mass communications, the fundamental source of international conflict will not be primarily ideological or economic but cultural. However, our own view of culture is broader than that of Huntington and encompasses folk and high culture as well as popular culture. Moreover in our judgment, the ultimate clash is less between civilizations than within them.

The impact of globalization on culture has been viewed primarily as a side effect. Nonetheless, for those absorbed with the subject, reactions tend to be deeply divided. For example, one observer has asserted that, “... globalization promotes integration and the removal not only of cultural barriers but many of the negative dimensions of culture. Globalization is a vital step toward both a more stable world and better lives for the people within it.”5 Others, however, have treated globalization of culture as an evil because of their fears of the pervasive power and duplicity of multinational corporations or international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In recent years, this reaction has been manifest in sometimes violent demonstrations when the leaders of the world’s richest countries Globalization, Culture, and Identities in Crisis 275 (e.g., the G-8, the European Union) have held their meetings—as evident in the streets of Seattle, Washington, Genoa and Barcelona.





And who among us would not be disturbed by, for example, the echo of rap music in an old Barcelona neighborhood, the demise of local food products and neighborhood shops, or the proliferation of the same brands and chain stores from San Francisco to Santiago to Shanghai? Yet beyond unwarranted optimism or equally exaggerated negativity there is an underlying dynamic. We seek to explicate the deeper reasons for these strong but often oppositional reactions that people have to the effects of globalization on what they identify as their culture. By integrating perspectives from both culture and politics, we find that in an increasingly globalized world, culture has become a central arena of contestation. Culture takes on this pivotal position not only because of its intrinsic significance, but precisely because it has become so bound up with the most fundamental questions of human identity in its many dimensions: personal, ethnic, religious, social and national. As a result, controversies about culture often have less to do with surface level phenomena: McDonalds, American tastes in music, language, art and lifestyle, than with deeper forms of alienation that owe more to the changes and disruptions brought by modernization and globalization. In some cultures, especially in parts of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, there is an important added dimension of existential rage against corrupt and authoritarian regimes that, with the breakdown of older traditional social, political and economic relationships, have failed to meet the needs of their own societies. In these regions, resentments expressed about modernity, the West or America are often a sublimation of rage against more deep rooted problems of identity.

In the western world and in more prosperous regions of East Asia and Latin America, where domestic problems of acculturation are much less acute, cultural alienation tends to be based primarily on an uneasiness about the ubiquity of American culture and influence as well as on U.S. primacy more generally. These resentments often are less the preoccupation of the general public than of intellectual elites, who react against cultural intrusions into their own established realms and prerogatives. At times, such reactions can approach self-parody, as in the assertion that “resistance to the hegemonic pretenses of hamburgers is, above all, a cultural imperative.”6 Specific criticisms thus can have more to do with what the U.S., seems to symbolize than with any specific characteristic of American culture or policy in itself.

We begin this essay by analyzing the impact of a virtually unprecedented degree of American cultural primacy. We next consider culture as an arena of contestation, noting the contradictory impulses of both attraction and repulsion as well as the phenomena of differentiation and assimilation.

276 Lieber and Weisberg These reactions can be observed across the range of mass culture, folk culture and high culture. We then examine culture as a problem of identity in an era of globalization. We find that although both globalization and American primacy evoke cultural backlash, the reaction takes very different forms in modern societies than elsewhere. We explore two distinct causes of cultural anxiety and turmoil. One of these, the material effects of globalization and modernity, including the consumer economy, the information revolution and the mass media, provides both a window to the wider world and a challenge to traditional ways of doing things. The other, Western values, is often more profound in its impact, even though more intangible.

Cultural reactions to globalization in Europe, Japan and elsewhere where modern values prevail, tend to be more symbolic and less extreme and often have more to do with status resentments than with disagreements about fundamental values. But in large areas of the developing world and especially in many Muslim countries, reactions to globalization and to the U.S. as the embodiment of capitalism, modernity and mass culture tend to be much more intense. We posit that in these societies, radically different notions of values and identity are played out in the cultural realm, with much of the impetus stemming from rage at corrupt regimes and failed societies, which is then redirected at external targets through forms of transference. By transference we are referring to the process by which group fears or resentments are shifted onto other entities or groups. Intense cultural resentments thus come to be focused upon actors, especially the U.S., the West and Israel, that bear little relationship to the problems at hand yet provide convenient scapegoats.

CULTURE AND AMERICAN PRIMACY

In the 21st century, the United States enjoys a degree of international preponderance that has rarely been seen in any era. Historians, strategists, journalists and cultural observers have called attention to the phenomenon in increasingly hyperbolic terms. In the words of one recent observer, “We dominate every field of human endeavor from fashion to film to finance. We rule the world culturally, economically, diplomatically and militarily as no one has since the Roman Empire.”7 The United States, with less than 5% of the world’s population, accounts for at least onefourth of its economic activity. It leads in the information revolution. It accounts for some 75% of the Nobel prizewinners in science, medicine and economics.8 It predominates in business and banking and in the number and quality of its research universities. Its defense budget is larger than those Globalization, Culture, and Identities in Crisis 277 of the next fifteen countries combined. And there are few signs that any other international actor will soon become a true competitor of the United States.

This American primacy is the product of the country’s own attributes (population, economic strength, technology, military preponderance, social dynamism), as well as of the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. With the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, the U.S. no longer faces any country possessing even remotely comparable power. For much of the period since at least the mid-17th century, international politics had been characterized by balance of power rivalry involving competition among a number of great powers (typically France, Britain, Russia, Spain, Austria, Prussia and later Germany.) After World War II, world politics became bipolar with the onset of the Cold War and the superpower confrontation between the US and USSR. Since the early 1990s, however, the United States has occupied a unique position, and its degree of primacy has grown rather than diminished with time. Moreover, the very scale of America’s relative power compared to other countries tends to discourage challenges from other would-be world powers.9 Influence in the cultural arena is more difficult to gauge than in the economic or military realms. Although many of the criteria are less specific and more subjective, here too American preponderance is evident. An astute German diplomat, Karsten Voight, long acquainted with the United States, has aptly characterized the pervasiveness of this influence in the cultural

realm:

The USA has long been setting standards on a worldwide basis, not just for the general populace, but has been leading the field in the classic cultural spheres, for example in research and teaching, or film and modern art. Its global role is rooted in a hitherto unknown blend of economic power, the ability to set the global cultural agenda and military superiority.10 Moreover, this influence is evident not only in what Voight refers to as the classic cultural spheres, but is even more pronounced in mass culture, where American popular music, casual clothing, movies, advertising media, fast food and sports (notably basketball) have become pervasive.

A particularly ubiquitous feature that confers enormous influence is the spread of American English as an international lingua franca. A century ago, French was the language of diplomacy and German was the leading scientific language as well as extensively used in Central and Eastern Europe.

By the mid 20th century, Russian was the predominant second language throughout the Soviet sphere in Central Asia and in Eastern Europe. Now, however, it is English that prevails. For example, at the United Nations, 120 countries specify English as the language in which correspondence to their missions should be addressed. By contrast some forty countries (mostly 278 Lieber and Weisberg former French colonies) choose French, while twenty designate Spanish.11 In much of the world, English has become widely used and is by far the leading choice for those who aspire to communicate outside their own locality. English is the language shared by the different communities of India (or at least by their educated, commercial or political elites), it is overwhelmingly the second language in China and is often taught as a required subject in primary or secondary schools throughout Europe and Asia. Stories abound of bilateral meetings of foreign leaders who are not fluent in each other’s languages, conversing in English which they share as a second tongue.



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