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What is Globalization?

Ulrich Beck translated by Patrick Camiller
Polity Press: Cambridge
1999
0745621260 (pb); 0745621252 (hb)
13.99 (pb); 45.00 (hb)
208

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Globalization and Culture

John Tomlinson
Polity Press: Cambridge
1999
0745613381 (pb); 0745613373 (hb)
13.99 (pb); 45.00 (hb)
230

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Front Cover

At the beginning of the 21st century, the world is experiencing waves of angst and uncertainty. Throughout the political spectrum, there is talk of (un)safety and (in)stability, of closing borders and fighting new wars, of the need for renewed moral education campaigns, and of strengthening national cultures. Until now, these have been largely regarded as issues concerning predominantly obscure right-wing parties, excluded from the domain of the serious by labeling them 'traditionalist'. Today, however, talks of regional/national culture, and of strengthening the national identity have become publicly acceptable again. A so-called "cordonne sanitaire", an agreement amongst politicians and intellectuals to just negate a public discussion about these issues (something attempted in Flemish Belgium in order to isolate the right-wing Flemish Block), no longer seems to be enough to contain the flow of fundamentalist ideas. On the contrary, such 'silence' strategies only appear to strengthen popular impressions of the unwillingness of established politicians to deal with the mundane problems of their constituency, thus stimulating protest votes. As a result, the Left is also forced to involve itself with so-called 'security issues', a term in practice encompassing issues of migration and multi- culturality.

From a rather narrow, empiricist point of view, this wave of national cultural protectionism might be regarded as falsifying the idea of an ongoing 'globalization', thus doing away with an issue which has already for some twenty years dominated social theory. What some label as a 'globalization' process is nothing more than a temporary increase in mobility, so the story goes, not something seriously affecting established institutions. It is only making us aware (again) of the ongoing importance to take care of national culture and identity, along with the educational and cultural programs and amenities involved. After the Second World-War, at least in the West, the state- formation process became regarded as a finished project. We know now that that has not been the case. Issues of national security and national identity, along with the related public involvement with norms and values, artistic-cultural hierarchies and models of public behavior, should be of ongoing concern. We are not experiencing a new situation, what we have here is the result of a cultural neglect.

From a more fundamental point of view, however, such an evaluation of things will not do. In fact, the rise of debates about national security and national identity should be seen as evidence of the very new globalizing situation. What we have here is a defensive response to a growing awareness of an increasing global connectivity, both physical and cultural, which is deeply affecting established notions and values of place. The result has been an ongoing 'dis-placement', 'de-territorialization' or (to use Giddens' term) 'dis-embedding' of local ways of doing things, in the end not only changing the very substance of neighborhoods and public space, but also of politics and the state. Here, it will not do to close borders and re-introduce once established cultural hierarchies. The conditions in which we live have changed to the point where localized forms of belonging (neighborhood, region, class, state, citizenship) have become much more open and ambiguous, and partly displaced by more globally mediated ones (leisure and lifestyle, taste and consumption, media and tourism). At stake is a search for new sources/structures of existential trust and security, a new cultural-moral space, able to accommodate ongoing conditions of de-territorialization.

Both Beck's 'What is Globalization,' and Tomlinson's 'Globalization and Culture,' can be read as important contributions to such a search. Of course their texts are not primarily political. Central to both is an investigation of the current condition of globalization, partly based upon an evaluation of the work so far done by others. How can we understand that current condition? What are its driving forces? How is this effecting the very foundations upon which our lives are organized? However, both cannot resist the temptation, or should we say urge, to explore possible political responses. This makes their books not only interesting for social researchers, it makes them also a 'must' for political thinkers, searching for solid grounds in the midst of all too muddy 'security' and 'identity' debates.

Both share a notion of 'globalization' that stresses the open, multi-dimensional and poly- cultural character of the process. Globalization is a process of paradoxes and ambivalences. Here no simple linear stories about an increasing homogenization, Westernization or McDonaldization. Globalization is not just about the end of place or the end of tradition, it is also about new, more complex forms of re-location and re-territorialization, and about new non-traditionalist forms of re- traditionalization. As such their analyses are clearly stimulated by the earlier work of other 'processual' thinkers such as Anthony Giddens, Ronald Robertson, Zygmunt Bauman, Scott Lash and John Urry, and, of course, Ulrich Beck himself. In general there is a tendency to escape established forms of 'either-or' thinking, and to go beyond a logic of simple extrapolation, searching for new conceptual grounds, able to capture a new complexity. Thus, both authors are rather critical about notions of a 'global neighborhood', popular in UN circles, founded on a new 'common culture' distilled from established world religions. This is too simple a projection of old national-local forms on new global- local conditions. As a consequence, both come up with a new vocabulary, linking former dichotomies. Thus Beck speaks of the necessity of an 'inclusive distinctiveness' (p. 82), of 'contextual universalism' (p. 84) and 'inclusive sovereignity' (p. 132). All are based on the idea that there is "no escape from the unrest of mutual interference between exclusive certainties" (p. 84). Along those same lines Tomlinson quotes Helmuth Berking on the rise of new forms of 'solidary individualism,' in which the building of self-identity depends on an increasing reflexive awareness of relations with others (p. 206). Both criticize economic and technological forms of reductionism, whether formulated on the Left or on the Right, and whether disguised as green or red protectionism or as a cultural imperialism thesis. And both stress the fact that the unevenness of the globalization process has not so much to do with a divide between those who are 'in' and those who are 'out' as Tomlinson rightly reminds us, the inner-city poor often find themselves closest to some of the most turbulent transformations but with a divide within a common process between those who are initiating, and those who are on the receiving-end of the flows and movements.

Of course there are also differences, both in the analysis of the globalization process and in the solutions suggested. In the end, Ulrich Beck's 'What is Globalization' is pre-dominantly focussed on finding a way to mould the globalization process politically. For Beck, the new policy structure should neither be inter-national nor supra-national, but transnational, with states coming together and thereby developing a regional sovereignty and identity beyond the national level: hence his conclusion that "without Europe there can be no response to globalization" (158). Tomlinson's 'Globalization and Culture' stresses the cultural dimension of the globalization process, with, amongst other things, a more detailed eye for the ways in which the communication industries produce mediated forms of proximity and intimacy. In the end this cultural perspective leads to a search for a cultural politics of cosmopolitanism, able to accommodate ongoing forms of de-territorialization.

Examined from the point of view of a general globalization analysis however, these and other differences are much more complementary to each other than antagonistic. As politics is becoming more and more cultural, and culture political, it is in the combined understanding of the two that we have to find a way out of the current global-local gridlock. Beck and Tomlinson have made an important contribution to that search. This is compulsory reading, not just for students and scholars in the social sciences, but also for politicians and administrators facing the challenge to pose new questions, instead of falling back to old answers.

Hans Mommaas
Tilburg University

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