Rupturing Totalized Analysis


Robert Clarke

University of Queensland, Australia

Copyright © 2001 by Robert Clarke, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

Review of:

Frederic Jameson and Masao Miyoshi (eds). The Cultures of Globalization. Durham & London: Duke UP, 1998. xvii, 393pp. $54.95 (cloth); $18.95 (paper).

  1. Outside my office door someone has posted a pamphlet that reads, "Global Exploitation Breeds Global Resistance." As a slogan it parallels the earlier catchcry, "Think Globally Act Locally." Though perhaps a testament to the rhetorical creativity of student politicians, the poster also suggests the manner in which 'globalization' has itself become something of a slogan. As such it is easily appropriated by groups with contradictory agendas. For instance it was not so long ago that the term seemed to enjoy almost universal appeal. It suggested democracy, freedom, cultural renaissance, and so on. More recently the term has been used to focus a vast range of local, regional and national protests, from representatives and interest groups of both the left and right. This presents a challenge then for those who wish to address globalization as a topic of social, economic, political, and cultural analysis. As a multivalent term globalization does not describe any simple or singular process, but a range of processes, practices, and problems. The danger, however, for academic theorists and observers of globalization seems to be the risk of contributing to the sloganeering that invariably accompanies popular discourses of globalization. It is a risk though that most of the contributors to The Cultures of Globalization by and large avoid.

  2. Published in 1998, this collection developed out of the proceedings of a conference on Globalization and Culture, held in 1994 and sponsored by Duke University and the University of California, San Diego. As Masao Miyoshi explains, most of the seventeen essays were delivered at the conference and then later revised. As the title suggests, the papers address a diverse range of subjects to explore the various ways that the processes of contemporary globalization impact upon cultures.

  3. Doubtless, many will find the essays controversial. For instance, when Peter Berger reviewed The Cultures of Globalization for the Times Literary Supplement in 1999, he stridently criticised the book claiming that it represents the "faculty club culture," a "globalizing Western, mainly American, intelligentsia" (8) that exports its ideologies and theory to the rest of the world. In addition to the opacity of language used in the book, Berger also claims that the articles consistently promote a one-sided argument that focusses on the negative effects of globalization, which is broadly defined euphemistically as US economic, political, and cultural domination.

  4. By mentioning Berger's review of the book, I do not mean to corroborate or accept his criticisms. I think that this volume is more useful, and less one-sided than he presents it. For instance, from the outset, Frederic Jameson's "Preface" characterises globalization as a dis-unified, fractured and fractious terrain. While the exact nature of the problematic of globalization evades simple exposition, Jameson broadly defines it as "an untotalizable totality which intensifies binary relations between its parts - mostly nations, but also regions and groups, which, however, continue to articulate themselves on the models of 'national identities' (rather than in terms of social classes, for example)" (xii). Jameson's language may raise eyebrows (it certainly did for Berger), but his is an attempt to develop a definition that is applicable to the fields of economics, culture, governance, without reducing one to a model of the others. The definition is provisional and offered in the spirit of inviting discussion and debate, and Jameson stresses that it the relations he describes are ones of tension, antagonism, and exclusion. Nevertheless quite a few of the papers choose a much narrower definition of globalization, one that equates it simplistically and wholly with the expansion of Western capital and technology, one that relies heavily on 'world-systems' theory, and which tends to position globalization as something that always results in repressive effects.

  5. The essays are organized under four broad sections. The first, 'Globalization and Philosophy,' contains work by Enrique Dussel, Walter D. Mignolo, and Frederic Jameson. Dussel's paper explores what he considers to be two alternative paradigms of modernity and the implications these have in understanding the nature and effects of globalization from the fifteenth-century onwards. Mignolo's chapter examines shifts in the understanding of civilization, culture and the 'civilizing process,' the influence of global process on these, and the potential that globalization creates for the critique and disruption of the "epistemological strategies of colonial/imperial expansion" (51). Jameson charts the range of philosophical issues that arise around the topic of globalization. For Jameson, globalization is principally a "communicational concept" (55) but one that can only be understood and analysed by following the dialectical relationships between culture and economy.

  6. The second section, 'Alternative Localities,' includes contributions that address issues surrounding the economic, cultural and political implications of globalization across a variety of national and regional terrains. Alberto Moreiras takes the issue of area studies in general, and Latin American studies more specifically, to present an argument in relation to the Western university and intellectual, and their complicity with or rejection of neo-colonialism. Manthia Diawara provides a nuanced examination of the implications of global media and capital flows on West African communities and nations, and indigenous alternatives and resistance to globalization. Ioan Davies charts a number of developments in African literature and philosophy which attempt to question and go beyond Eurocentric notions of African culture and society. Subramani looks at the relationship between the development of the University of the South Pacific and a regional/transnational literary culture which has always been concerned with issues of colonialism and global forms of domination. Finally Liu Kang examines the variety of debates within contemporary China concerning the nature of modernity, and the relationship of one of the last self-proclaimed socialist nations to the globalized capitalist economies both in the West and in Asia.

  7. The section entitled 'Culture and the Nation' includes papers that deal with the assumed antagonism between 'nationalism' and the nation-state, and the forces of globalization. Geeta Kapur examines issues of post-colonial national identity with a focus on the Indian film industry, while Paik Nak-Chung engages with issues of 'national literature' in relation to contemporary Korean literature. Barbara Trent examines the trials of funding, shooting and distributing a documentary that is highly critical of US foreign policy and intervention in Central America, and Masao Miyoshi examines changes in higher education both in the US and elsewhere.

  8. In the fourth and final section, 'Consumerism and Ideology,' Sherif Hetata discusses the economic and cultural effects of global capitalism on nations like Egypt, and the challenges these raise for postcolonial cultural studies. Leslie Sklair takes up the issue of the power and effectiveness of new social movements in the modern era of global capitalism. The essays by Joan Martinez-Alier and David Harvey both address questions of environmental and ecological issues that still remain marginal areas of research in cultural studies. Noam Chomsky charts the range of contradictions that circulate within Western liberal capitalist discourse in relation to economic development, and the disastrous effects that such discourses and ideologies have had when forced onto various national economies in recent times. Masao Miyoshi ends the book with, 'In Place of a Conclusion' which contains excerpts of audience, primarily graduate student's, responses to the papers and discussions of the conference.

  9. The collection has a very strong focus on the effects of globalization in the so-called post-colonial world: Latin America, Francophone and Anglophone Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. While the relationship between postcolonialism and globalization is one that has received a fair amount of attention, a collection like The Cultures of Globalization demonstrates the manner in which the discourses and methods of the former are increasingly applicable to the analysis of the processes and effects of the latter.

  10. There are obvious gaps in the range of subjects dealt with by the papers, and the papers vary in the quality of their presentation, perhaps reflecting varying degrees of 'post'-conference editing. Yet, while there is a fair bit of sloganeering occurring in some of the papers, most of the authors advocate the importance of carefully addressing the problematic that is advertised under the banner of globalization. For this alone it makes a useful contribution to the literature of this field.

Works Cited

Berger, Peter. "In the Faculty Club." Times Literary Supplement. 20 August 1999: 9.

Jameson, Frederic. "Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue." The Cultures of Globalization. Eds. Frederic Jameson and Masao Miyoshi. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1998. 54-80.

---. "Preface." The Cultures of Globalization. Eds. Frederic Jameson and Masao Miyoshi. Durham & London: Duke UP, 1998.

Mignolo, Walter D. "Globalization, Civilization Processes, and the Relocation of Languages and Cultures." The Cultures of Globalization. Eds. Frederic Jameson and Masao Miyoshi. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1998. 32-53.

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