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Problem of Identity in Globalization

Author: Murali

Problem of Identity in Globalization Dr.R.Murali Head, Dept. of Philosophy The Madura College Madurai-625011 "A world culture which was simply a uniform culture would be no culture at all. We should have a humanity de-humanised. It would be a nightmare.- Eliot, T.S. Although essentially an economic phenomenon, globalization could only be envisaged in the context of wider interaction between different cultures, and it is this aspect of globalization, its cultural over-spill, as it were, that many see as a greater threat than its purely economic aspect. Voices came to be raised against the globalization process and the danger it represents for specific cultural identities which, according to the anti-globalization lobby, are at risk of being altogether lost or, at best, greatly diluted, in the context of globalization. One of the strongest critics to globalization comes from the fear that such a process might erode national cultures and individual identities. Mass consumption of standardized goods brought up by international trade and Foreign Direct Investment in cultural and other sectors may be seen as negative because it crowds out self-produced, traditional and locally manufactured goods and services or tends to reduce the perceived value of these goods to their so-called "pure" market value. Similarly, migration flows may be perceived as endangering local cultures and creating local political tensions over the provision of public goods in local receiving communities. In contemporary socio-cultural conditions an individual is 'forced' to be in the constant search for identities, he cannot stay committed to one and the same identity for a long period of time. The use of the magic word "identity" ("original identity") obviously implies an explicit polemic against Modernity and stands for tradition as an apparently safe place against differences and uniqueness. It is quite clear that such a pleading sees culture in a rigid, fetishistic manner, but it is nevertheless important to what extent these terms have a strategic value today. We know very well that the instrumentalization of a blocked concept of cultural identity has far more harmful consequences in the practice: it is no coincidence that the initially positive concept of multiculturalism has turned today into a growing problem and is even negatively valued. The theoretical consequences of such use -or misuse- of the concept of identity have been highlighted probably best by Samuel Huntington's scheme of the "clash of civilizations". It is obvious that neither "globalization" nor "identity" are neutral concepts, but hardly fought for constructions determining each other and which also define different points of view and can name a number of diverging phenomena. Almost all agree on the point, that globalization cannot be turned back. Whether we are in favor of globalization or are against it, it is definitely an ever-expanding process. Globalization is a three dimensional term, encompassing political, economical and cultural aspects. As for the political and cultural dimension of globalization, we are confronted via the world media with an agenda reflecting the downfall of the national state model, and with the prevalence in recent times of the terms and fears known as cultural homogenization and micro nationalism. In recent years, with the process of globalization, the international media has begun to present the national state model as an old fashioned style of management. Today in place of referring to total independence, countries speak of their mutual dependence on each other. Total independence has become impossible and is viewed as a third world country approach. Economics is the most important dimension of globalization, which affects politics, and politics in return affects economics, and both of these affect the cultural dimension of globalization. The cultural trade of goods and services between countries is conducted within the framework of a global economic system. Between the years 1980 and 1998 a 5-time increase in the market for cultural goods and services occurred. The information-societys most important component is the cultural industry, which is expanding at an incredibly rapid rate. Just as the products of these industries can create cultural values, or change them, as well as function to strengthen cultural identity, they can also hasten their disappearance. According to the UNDP Human Development Report published in 1999, two-thirds of the worlds population are unable to benefit from global economic growth, based on international trade and developing technologies, and do not have the opportunity to become part of an informed society. This brings about the necessity to discuss whether or not culture can be regarded as any economic process within globalization economics. In order to understand the fundamental importance of the issue, let us examine how much of a portion of our lives is encompassed by cultural goods and services: cultural goods consist of a variety of products such as books, magazines, multimedia products, software, records, CDs, films, videos, audiovisual programs and fashion designs. Cultural services are comprised of libraries, documentary centers, museums,theatres, and orchestras, even circuses, press, cable news broadcasts, and satellite broadcasts. As of 1998, the worlds 5 largest cultural exporters were Japan, USA, UK, Germany and China, exporting 53% of cultural goods and services while maintaining an import rate of 57%. In the 1990s the concentration of large firms in this market established an oligopoly, in the global sense. In the year 2000 nearly half of the worlds cultural industries were located in the USA, 30% were located in Europe, with the remainder being located in Asia. Today, 85% of movies seen in the world are made in Hollywood, whereas on the African continent, an average of 42 films are produced a year. In Africa, Chile and Costa Rica 95% of the films viewed are imported from the USA. Cultural goods and services produced by rich and powerful countries have invaded all of the worlds markets, placing people and cultures in other countries, which are unable to compete, at a disadvantage. These other countries have difficulties in presenting the cultural goods and services, which they have produced to the world market and therefore are not able to stand up to competition. The natural result is that these countries are unable to enter the areas of influence occupied by multinational companies of developed countries. To make a simple point let us look at language: In scientific and cultural areas, the language of dominant cultures is quickly spread by means of the media and the internet and becomes the common means of communication. Noticeably, the most frequently used language is English. English is the common language of use on the internet and if one is expressing oneself on information technology; it is the English terms, which become inserted into the local language. If with present day communication opportunities you are unable to reach your people with your folk songs and your literature, this means that the cultural identity of a generation ago and that of the current generation will be different. If the native fairy tales, songs, celebrations and stories of your childhood are replaced wit computer games produced on a different continent, then you have already become part of a global culture. As long as the rules of international business perceive cultural goods and services as equal with other goods, and as long as on the global economic level, the powerful and the weak enter into competition under equal trade conditions, the cultural diversity of developing countries will be in danger. When we look at mankinds situation today, the diversity of race, sex, language, class, age and religion can not be ignored. In the day-to-day lives of people, these most significant factors have accumulated for hundreds of years and form the pattern of the cultural identities of societies. Globalization challenges the authority of states, and even it changes the nationalistic awareness of people, the truth is that, the roots of the identities of societies and cultures may be forced to change very much. But it is to be noted that the struggle for identification on the local (micro) level is increased. Who would want to break off all cultural ties in order to be a world citizen? Today throughout the world, in the midst of the discussion on globalization, it is increasingly being claimed that globalization brings with it homogeneity and that the identity of countries, in short their cultures, are becoming destroyed. The protest marches in Seattle, Davos, and Geneva indicate that the subject of globalization and cultural identity need to be taken much more seriously. Hence, the protection of the local identities is necessary during the process of globalization, it is equally important not to disperse the traditional makeup of these local societies in such a manner as to endanger their being lost forever. As todays global economy continues to expand, we know neither how to protect cultural identity at the local level, nor do has we known how to prevent local nationalism. What we do know is that if an economic standard of comfort is not ensured for, then developing countries will face even more hardships in the future. The protection of the worlds natural environment and cultural diversity, and the elimination of poverty can only be accomplished with economics. As long as the countries, which are in control of the global economy do not share same worries as those of less fortunate nations, the destruction of local cultures in underdeveloped countries will continue and waves of local nationalism will become a serious a threat to world peace. The world during the next century will be less colorful and picturesque than the one we have left behind. Local ftes, dress, customs, ceremonies, rites and beliefs that in the past have contributed to the rich panoply of human folkloric and ethnological variety, are fading away or becoming the preserve of minority and isolated groups, whilst, the bulk of society abandons them, adopting more practical habits better suited to our times. This is a process that to a greater or a lesser degree is experienced by all countries of the globe, not due to globalization but to the modernization that eventually causes globalization. This phenomenon can be regretted and we can feel nostalgia for the eclipse of tradition and past ways of life that appear, in our eyes from the comfort of our present situation, attractive, original and colorful. While there is much discussion in the public debate on globalization and the possible erosion of culture (see for instance the website of UNESCO on cultural diversity), little economic analysis has formally discussed these issues. we have in recent years witnessed the growth, in very many societies in all continents, of political movements seeking to strengthen the collective sense of uniqueness, often targeting globalization processes, which are seen as a threat to local distinctiveness and self-determination. A European example with tragic consequences is the recent rise of ethnic nationalism in Croatia and Serbia, but even in the more prosperous and stable European Union, strong ethnic and nationalist movements have grown during the 1990s, ranging from Scottish separatism to the anti-immigration Front National in France. In Asia, ONE of the most powerful recent example IS the rise of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan ;and many African countries have also seen a strong ethnification of their politics during the last decade, as well as the rise of political Islam in the north. In the Americas, various minority movements, from indigenous groups to African Americans, have with increasing success demanded cultural recognition and equal rights. In sum, politics in the 1990s has to a great extent meant identity politics. Identity politics comes in many flavours: Some are separatist nationalist movements; some represent historically oppressed minorities which demand equal rights; some are dominant groups trying to prevent minorities from gaining access to national resources; some are religious, some are ethnic, and some are regional. Many writers see identity politics in general as an anti-modern counterreaction to the individualism and freedom embodied by globalization, while others see it as the defence of the weak against foreign dominance, or even as a concealed strategy of modernization. Some emphasise the psychological dimension of identity politics, seeing it as nostalgic attempts to retain dignity and a sense of rootedness in an era of rapid change; others focus on competition for scarce resources between groups; some see identity politics as a strategy of exclusion and an ideology of hatred, while yet others see it as the trueborn child of socialism, as an expression of the collective strivings of the underdog. Jurgen Habermas views the problem from view point of territorial integrity and collective identity. Habermas argues that globalization processes are threatening not just the regulatory powers of the nation-state but the very bases of cultural and political solidarity upon which it is built. Globalization challenges the state's ability to prioritize an equitable domestic policy, its territorial integrity, its collective identity, and its political legitimacy. To be sure, interdependence implies that people are becoming more and more affected by decisions of collective actors aside from their own government, such as transnational associations and even other states (Habermas 2001, 70-1). "Legitimation gaps" are opening due in part to the frequency with which decisions are being made by actors not accountable to the procedural constraints of democratic legitimation. In addition, globalization processes seem to undermine peoples' understandings of their own collective identities, that is, the forms of social integration and cultural self-understandings that allow a people to see itself as "a nation," which Habermas sees as happening in two ways: first, by the increasing pluralization of societies due to waves of transnational migration, and second, by the culturally leveling effects of global consumerism and mass culture, exported mainly from Europe and America. Herbert Marcuse, the critical theorist, has also expressed the same opinion even in a more emphatic way about the influences of the high capitalism on common people. He argues that the high capitalism makes people one-dimensional. To him, People loose their souls in hi-fi sets and apartments at cost of their critical awareness about the economic influences. The growth of multinationals and the globalization of their impact are wrapped up with the rise of the brand.The astronomical growth in the wealth and cultural influence of multi-national corporations over the last fifteen years can arguably be traced back to a single, seemingly innocuous idea developed by management theorists in the mid-1980s: that successful corporations must primarily produce brands, as opposed to products. (Klein 2001: 3) This commodified, homogeneous culture doesn't just impose itself on distant lands, of course; in the West too, it levels out even the strongest national differences, and weakens even the strongest local traditions. (Habermas 2001, 75) Habermas fears that such effects diminish the cultural resources that maintain the historical congruence of national collective identity and democratic solidarity. These processes seem to be wearing away the effectiveness of democratic politics as a means to provide steering for social change; losses in civic solidarity and administrative capacity contribute to the surrender of public consciousness to market imperatives, as money replaces power as the steering medium of societies (Habermas 2001, 78). As Habermas wrote in 1997, globalization 'threatens to dissolve the social glue that holds together already fragmented national societies.' In Germany, questions of nation, national identity and culture, along with the search for a binding social glue', have arisen just as globalisation challenges the possibility of the national unification process. Anti-globalisation there, as elsewhere, seeks to protect local identity, economies and culture from both the European Union and the more powerful American 'empire'. Russian philosopher, Alexander Sergeevich Panarin says that globalization is another form of racism. He names it as neo racism. He says, The politics and ideology of the modern globalization under command of the USA should be named neo racism. The problem at issue is the ambition of the influential western political and financial circles for world domination, as they consider themselves, with the western mentality, to be superior to all the others whom they treat with a barely concealed contempt. Contrary to their liberal rhetoric about the human rights and democracy, the globalists try actively to establish a one-pole world, the world of economic and political monopolism where the mankind is divided into the elect and the non-elect, into the race of masters and the race of the untouchable, into progressive civilized people and retarded barbarians and terrorists. Russian philosopher, Alexander Sergeevich Panarin says The hidden aspect of the globalization is the consistent removal from any local interest, norm or tradition. However, nowadays the further the more the true centers of power and decision-making do not follow the will of electorate but follow the coordinated strategies of the international economic and political trusts. For Amartya Sen, the central issue of contention is not globalization itself, nor is it the use of the market as an institution, but the inequity in the overall balance of institutional arrangements--which produces very unequal sharing of the benefits of globalization. He says that the question is not just whether the poor, too, gain something from globalization, but whether they get a fair share and a fair opportunity. There is an urgent need for reforming institutional arrangements--in addition to national ones--in order to overcome both the errors of omission and those of commission that tend to give the poor across the world such limited opportunities. Globalization deserves a reasoned defense, but it also needs reform. The re-definition and re-evaluation of cultural identity is linked tightly to the process of globalization. Indeed, in order that certain cultural specifics can be considered indices of identity, they have to be seen from a global background. The more global certain phenomena claim to be, the more local will seem others. The fact that the global is nothing more than a globalized localism is pushed behind and doesn't reach the conscience: "Hegemonic globalizations are, in fact, globalized localisms - the new cultural imperialisms. Hegemonic globalization can be defined as the process by which a given local phenomenon - be it the English language, Hollywood or fast food - succeeds in extending its reach over the globe and, by doing so, develops the capacity to designate a rival social phenomenon as local." (Santos, 1998: 102) The tendency towards the ethnicization of cultural identity is most certainly one of the main responses to the pressure of globalization. Thus, the scheme center - periphery is still standing in the field of culture as well, for here too we can speak of a relationship of power when speaking of the relationship between cultures. The "dialogue of cultures" exists exclusively in unequal conditions - but this also takes into consideration the exponential development of possibilities in the digital era by the compression of time and space. But it is also a fact that interculturalism and cultural identity are seen as a tense construction, essentially structured upon ambivalent moments. A new, dynamic concept of cosmopolitism arises as an attitude that surrenders neither to the logic of a blind globalization, nor accepts a simple particularity, but as the capacity to think both across borders and about borders. Strong political movements that must be built upon the process of class struggle that takes place each country. As Hugo Chavez said It cannot be mere movement of protest and celebration like Woodstock. It is an enormous struggle, an endeavor in which organization and coordination are keys. This is the challenge to international intellects and activists. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead Reference : Eliot, T.S. (1948), Notes towards a Definition of Culture, London, Faber&Faber Hall, Stuart (1992), The Question of Cultural Identity, in Stuart Hall et al. (ed.), Modernity and its Futures, London, Polity Press, 273-325 About the Author:

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Problem of Identity in Globalization