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«On globalisation and diversity Mary Kalantzis a,∗, Bill Cope b a College of Education, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, United States b ...»

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Computers and Composition 23 (2006) 402–411

On globalisation and diversity

Mary Kalantzis a,∗, Bill Cope b


College of Education, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, United States


Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois,

Urbana-Champaign, United States


Mary Kalantzis’s plenary address at the 2005 International Conference on the Humanities (Cam-

bridge, U.K.) argues that globalization and diversity ground the world of our times. The article expands on this notion as Kalantzis and co-author Bill Cope describe three instantiations of globalization since the evolutionary processes of human beings began. The third globalization of which we are a part today, they argue, is characterized by layers upon layers of difference. These layers, moreover, are supported through new media and the Internet—and may indeed return us to “multilingualism, divergence, and enduringly deep diversity.” © 2006 Published by Elsevier Inc.

Keywords: Globalization; Diversity; Symbol systems; Command structures; Modernity Globalisation and diversity are two of the grounding phenomena of our times. Are they, however, at odds?

The theory of neo-imperialism would suggest that they are. One neo-imperialist case is economic, tracing the colonisation by the commodity form of the last recesses of older material lifeworlds, from the receding havens of our domestic self-realisation to the dispossession of peoples in the depths of the Amazon when their forests are razed. Another case is cultural, clearly proven when we start a new day to find a McDonalds being built on the next corner, or as we watch the story of the world according to Fox News or CNN, or as we look at our working and personal lives through Microsoft’s Windows. Still another case is political, as one nation-state, the United States, seems so easily able to dominate others—or to paraphrase its own, more delicate words, as it takes the light of freedom and democracy to those dark corners of the world it considers in need, using force where necessary.

Globalisation, in this conception, is the enemy of diversity. It is incompatible with diversity except in its most superficial and trivialised of forms—tourist kitsch, commodities with the aura of native authenticity, ethnic colour, patronising niceness.

∗ Corresponding author.

Email addresses: kalantzi@uiuc.edu (M. Kalantzis), billcope@uiuc.edu (B. Cope).

8755-4615/$ – see front matter © 2006 Published by Elsevier Inc.

doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2006.09.002 M. Kalantzis, B. Cope / Computers and Composition 23 (2006) 402–411 403 The purpose of this paper is to argue that diversity is deeper than that, or at least that it is becoming deeper. Perhaps it was not meant to be anything other than superficial in the modernity of our recent past which worked so hard at creating a homogenous mass—mass production, mass consumption, the mass politics of ostensibly uniform national identity. The suppressed differences of this modernity—experiential, corporeal, interpersonal—have been the subject of our research work and political activism, defending diversity against its modern assailants not for the sake of nostalgic return but with an eye to the creation of a different modernity in which the so-called “multicultural” becomes more than trite (Cope & Kalantzis, 1997; Kalantzis, 2000).

This paper takes a longer view than is possible in the everyday fray of research and activism.

Its focus is the increasing recognition of diversity in our particular modernity. The case it will make is that it is becoming harder to dismiss diversity as superficial or mutable in the phase of globalisation we are now entering. In fact, we want to speculate—tentatively, suggestively, provocatively—that we might be on the verge of a new phase in our species’ global presence, the exact shape of which is not yet clear but in which diversity becomes a more fundamental dynamic than it has been within not just our living memories, but even our written, civilisational memory.

To make our case, we go back beyond our written memory. This frame of reference we call “the three globalisations.” Human beings have only ever been global creatures. From the moment we emerged as the species we are, we became the first sentient beings to fill virtually every habitat. Our first act as a symbol-making species was to walk to the ends of the earth.

This may have taken as long as several 100,000 years or as little as 100. Whatever the timing, we started walking from the moment we became a species and did not stop until there was nearly no desert, no tundra, and no sea where we did not or could not make a home. This happened during the first globalisation, a process unprecedented for any species in natural history.

Then we became different because, in our supposedly primitive states with seemingly poor communications compared with the wires and waves of modernity and in the relative isolation of one tribe from another, our languages and cultures drifted in their various directions. A kind of symbolic-cultural variant of evolutionary processes set in. Having globalised, we drifted into a state of separation, and this state created difference. Or, at least, this is the conventional wisdom. We want to suggest, however, that something else happened in this first globalisation.

We want to argue that the state of difference in the first globalisation was more integral and more systematic than that. And that it was more deeply, intrinsically global than the fact of dispersal and the accident of separation. To make this case, we are going to draw on earlier work (Kalantzis, 2004) and all-too briefly for now because we want to get to the fulcrum-point of this paper, the transition from the second to a third globalisation. So we will view the first globalisation through just one symptomatic window, those forms of linguistic representation or meaning-making that make us unique in natural history, to use the phrase of Terence Deacon, the “symbolic species” (Deacon, 1997), a creature apart.

The first thing to note about diversity amongst what we will call “first languages”—the languages of the first globalisation—is that their differences are more than accidental, more than the result of evolutionary drift. They are endemic to their modes of production of meaning and the reproduction of material life that these systems of meaning support. These were not bounded 404 M. Kalantzis, B. Cope / Computers and Composition 23 (2006) 402–411 tribal spaces but worlds of overlapping affinities, sovereignties even. The marker of one’s relation to a place or a group or creature or totem was on the peculiarity of one’s representation of it. There was a deep logic of representational divergence on many dimensions—geospatial, interpersonal and iconic-symbolic. This could be on the basis of group membership—families, clans, tribes, peoples—and even these terms oversimplify the layering of affinity groups. Or it could be on the basis of age groups, or gender, or elders defined by their access to arcane metaphysical knowledges.

The result was that this peculiarly symbolic species ended up covering the globe, but covering it with perhaps 10,000 incommensurate symbol systems if one takes that most distinctive species-characteristic, language, as the measure, but many, many more than this if one takes into account, as one must, the seemingly wanton peculiarities of dialect and register.

This cosmos of symbolic divergence had little to do with evolutionary drift and nothing to do with isolation. People did not live in isolated groups, and meanings were transmitted over very long distances and quite rapidly despite the differences between symbol systems.

The peoples of the first globalisation dealt with difference by being hugely multilingual and developing interlanguages. What emerges is an integrated globalism with the dynamics of diversity, or active processes for making and then negotiating symbolic differences, at its core.

The result also was the emergence of a species that could make and constantly remake its representations of the world and by remaking these meanings remake itself. Divergence here is an active and temporal thing whereas difference is a merely found object at a moment in time.

Divergence is done by people, and its effect over time is the making of difference. In this regard, the symbol systems of the peoples of the first globalisation had a fluidity and a dynamism the depth and extent of which is hard to grasp today. Not only were they deeply different, they were deeply diverging as a consequence of the constant renegotiation of meanings. The world was forever being renamed, resung, reconceived, at times of law and ritual, and at times of song, story and poetry (Cope, 1998). In this process of invention and reinvention, there was a rough balance of subjectivities. The political economy of negotiated meanings was such that, over a lifetime at least, every person had a more or less equal chance to have their voice included in the making or remaking of meanings.

And then came a second globalisation. One of its manifestations was the global spread of farming. Revealingly for our case regarding the world-integrated nature of the first globalisation, this happens independently in five different places over a span of just 6000 years (Diamond, 1999). Another is the emergence of writing, which happens independently in four different places over several thousand years—in Mesopotamia about 5000 years ago and then in India, China, and Mesoamerica.

With these new material and symbolic modes came material inequalities of a type never experienced in the first globalisation. Farming brings the possibility of accumulating material wealth and the application of surpluses to the unnecessary projects of “civilisation,” which stand both as a testament to, and overwhelming reminder of, the scale of that inequality. To take another touchstone of transition, Jacky Goody would remind us that writing from the start was used as an instrument of elite control, a medium for maintaining inventories of ownership, an instrument of bureaucracy and for siphoning off surpluses, and as a font of religious obfuscation that rationalised an unequal social order (Goody, 1977). The relative simultaneity of these developments suggests that the peoples of the first globalisation were M. Kalantzis, B. Cope / Computers and Composition 23 (2006) 402–411 405 talking and that the transition from the first to the second globalisation was a global event, not a series of isolated events.

A measure of the progress of the second globalisation is the mass displacement of the languages of the first globalisation by Indo-European languages across a span from Europe to central India, by Bantu languages across Africa, by the languages of the Maya, the Aztecs, the Olmecs, and the Incas in Mesoamerica, and by the Chinese languages and their derivatives in East Asia. The few spoken languages of those who had started farming displaced the many languages of the first globalisation. Then writing cemented their supremacy. This process has only been accelerated by modern imperialism and nationalism once explicit programs of linguistic assimilation were put in place. In first languages, systems, and cultural processes of meaning were fluidly divergent, and endemically so. In the societies of the second globalisation, be they agricultural societies dominated by literate elites or the modern societies of mass literacy, systems of meaning are homogenised, stabilised, standardised, and generalised.

This second globalisation occurs on a global basis, and remarkably quickly. It brings not just the sameness that is to be found within large language groups, “world religions” and “civilisations.” There is also a sameness across and between these groups: the handful of domesticable plants and animals that spread like wildfire right across the globe; the religions which even share common ancestral figures, such as the Abraham of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims; and the inventions that are so quickly swapped and copied such as the plough, the wheel, monumental architecture, and writing. There are nuances, to be sure, and these are the stuff of tourist awe and foreboding about the apparently always-imminent “clash of civilisations,” to use Samuel Huntington’s now over-used expression (1998). In the larger scale of things, however, these differences are small. And that scale is the differences between the peoples of the first globalisation, which, on the measure of variability between their representational systems alone, were simply enormous, so enormous in fact that these first languages can throw into question the Chomskian claim that there is a universal grammar in a way that the languages of the various civilisations of the second globalisation do not. By comparison with scope and scale of difference in the first globalisation, there is a remarkable homology between the civilisations of the second. Their differences are things of subtlety rather than substance. The stuff we call “history” is too narrowly referenced to this scale of difference to be able to see the deep samenesses—indeed an underlying dynamic towards sameness—during the short period of our written species-memory.

Modernity arrives near the end of this second globalisation and at first intensifies the processes of civilisation. On four new continents, most people become speakers of a European language, as a lingua franca if not as a first language—the two Americas, Australia, and Africa.

This is just one telling consequence of the past few centuries of imperialism, achieved through a series of relentlessly thorough processes of economic, cultural, and geopolitical incorporation and homogenisation.

High modernity takes these processes of homogenisation and standardisation to an extreme.

Modern production reduces labour to raw human capacity, mass producing products for a homogenous public. “Any colour you like, as long as it is black,” said the enlightened Henry Ford (Cope & Kalantzis, 1997). The modern state assimilates outsiders, the indigenous peoples or migrant workers who need to be able to speak a common language to assume substitutable roles in the larger social machine (Kalantzis, 2000). In moments of reform, it imagines the uniM. Kalantzis, B. Cope / Computers and Composition 23 (2006) 402–411 versal individual and, on the measure of their needs, provides welfare. And modern lifeworlds place people in mass audiences, mass markets, mass culture.

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