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Globalisation, Fragmentation and Modernity: A Perspective on Non-Western Societies
Everybody talks about globalisation. For some it is the highest stage of economic development, where goods, services, money and knowledge have become highly mobile on a world-scale, and where the entire world will participate in and benefit from. For others, it is the most recent stage of western imperialism, merely serving economic and political interests of G7 -states. Criticism of ‘globalization and its discontent’ (to refer to Stieglitz) comes from within international organizations and from international, western, non-western and trans-national NGOs and their representatives but also from nationalist forces in the developed and developing world. The rhetoric is often morally and emotionally much uploaded. It is claimed that foreign goods, capital and culture undermine their societies, their cultural heritage and value system. Particularly in non-western societies with colonial past and a long anti-colonial struggle, academic scholars and both left- and right-wing politicians take an anti-western/anti-American and anti-global stance, often combined with a nationalist and often racist rhetoric, supporting campaigns against Western products. Outraged masses burn American flags and loot shops with western commodities.
In this paper I will argue that non-western, anti-global discourses are a continuation of anti-colonialism with regard to modernization. In these discourses the supposedly “own” and presumably “strange” constitute reference points for the projects of one’s own future. Moreover, the project of modernity once designed by Western Europe and extending from there all over the world is rejected. Instead, alternative projects of modernity emerge.
Globalisation constitutes a bundle of parallel processes, and exactly
this parallelism of seemingly unconnected issues makes the matter so
incomprehensible and potentially dangerous. This multifaceted bundle concerns
the economy and technology, politics, ideology, culture and environment. Of
particular interest for sociologists is the political dimension of globalisation.
Crucial to both left-wing and right-wing voices against globalization is that
national sovereignty has been weakening, while with the Washington Consensus the
power of international organizations, and US-America behind them, has been
increasing. This populist argument is wrong in so far that representation in
international organizations is still based upon nation-state representatives and
quota (while non-state organisations and associations are excluded from
On the other hand, it
overlooks that nationalism is an offspring of the western project of modernity,
manifesting itself in the nation-state. ‘Nation’ comprises people of common
culture, history and tradition in a political system (the German model), or by
will (the French model). This commonness in origin, however, is as often a
construct as the common will. Blood relations constituted the glue of
traditional communities, but a feeling of brother- and sisterhood among citizens
is not natural and has to be imagined by symbols (hymn, flag, passport, etc.)
and a clear-cut distinction of “Us” and “Them”, strangers and potential
enemies (Anderson 1983:
therefore rightly considers the nation-state as an ‘imagined community’).
While the process of
nation building in the course of modernization was quite successful in Western
Europe, and engendered certain structures of governance that are usually
associated with ‘good governance’
as opposed to ‘bad governance’ of despotic states, a copy of this
model to a number of former colonies was not; it has not reached beyond the
symbolic level. Particularly post-colonial states that are often artificial
entities of colonialism and have neither a living myth of common origin nor
common will, are subject to competing identities on the ethnic and/or religious
level. Like national identities these are a construct (Barth
, but more credible and closer than the national ones. Both identities
can compete with each other, being manipulated by national, regional and local
elites and counter-elites.
Global dynamics during the
second half of the 1990s that led to the Latin American, Asian and Russian
crises, demonstrated both the powerlessness of non-western states as well as
their unsuccessful modernization. Anti-globalism is then an outlet for this
frustration, as well as a tool to support an identity formation that is based
upon distinction from the “Other”, a way to explain domestic inadequacies by
global structures. The paradox of the global age is therefore, that it engenders
both a project of world society and simultaneously nationalism and regionalism,
both on a supra- and sub-national level (Slogan: “Act globally, think locally”).
Marhall McLuhan’s peaceful ‘global village’ is a myth. Sceneries of
fragmentation and its consequences have been addressed in a number of potential
‘clashes’; Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’, Bush’s ‘war
against terrorism’, Rufin’s ‘clash of rich and poor along the world’s
poverty line’ and Kurth’s ‘real clash of civilization’ between
civilization and barbarism in the segregated mega cities both in the developing
world and the west.
Among the famous
theoretical proponent of multiple modernities is Shmuel N. Eisenstadt (2001)
. He considers the emergence of modernity as begin of a “Second Axial
Age”, in which tensions between innerworldly and transcendental order that
occurred during the Axial age, caused a process of differentiation and a
distinct, cultural, political and institutional program that expanded from
Europe throughout most of the world, reproducing tensions and challenges between
different central sectors of society and leading to social movements trying to
solve these. Eisenstadt interprets this process as the first wave of modern
globalisation (ibid: 328). Both western and
non-western societies are both modern in so far, as they these tensions and
movments are characteristic to them. Therefore, social and political, nationalist, anti-colonial and
fundamentalist movements with often strong anti-Western or even anti-modern
themes, are not ‘traditional’, but expressions of modernity: they are
distinctively modern (Eisenstadt
. An example provides Gandhi’s swadeshi movement – a figurehead
for right-wing anti-global movements in India.
Crucial to these movements
addressed by Eisenstadt is the confrontation between supposedly
‘traditional’ sectors of societies and modern sectors and centres, between
the culture of modernity in these modern ones and the allegedly ‘authentic’
cultural tradition of society, between individualism and collectivism. The
concrete contours of different cultural and institutional patterns of modernity
were continuously changing due to varying tensions inherent to modernity,
attitudes towards the West, hegemonies of the world, national elites and their
goals, and consciousness of contradictions and antinomies in the program of
modernity. In sum, an outcome of this was and is different self-conceptions what
constitutes modernity for one’s own country and culture. This leads to a view
that there is not only one universal modernity – an outcome of a western
project - but multiple modernities existing side by side – all of them being
more or less realistic projects. At the same time, as already discussed under
the political dimension of globalisation, the state has lost its legitimacy of
violence to peripheral ethnic and/or religious movements.
While the divergent
modernities emerged in the ‘classical’ age of modernity during the 19th
and 20th centuries, they have changed drastically in the course of
globalisation after the 1970s. While the anti-colonial struggle was mainly
located on the national level, particular social movements emerged in our global
age under the impact of growing capitalist hegemony, intensified international
migration and an emergence of international social and environmental problems
(such as international prostitution and criminal networks, ozone hole and its
regional consequences, etc.). All this demonstrates the powerlessness of nation
states on their allegedly ‘national’ affairs.
These movements occur on national, supra-national and sub-national levels.
According to Eisenstadt this indicates the end of ‘secondary Axialization’
(ibid: 335). These movements have distinct visions of modernity and try to
appropriate modernity on their own terms.
Eisenstadt concludes that
“all these developments and trends constitute aspects of the continual
reinterpretation and reconstruction of the cultural program of modernity; of the
construction of multiple modernities; of attempts by various groups and
movements to re-appropriate modernity and redefine the discourse of modernity in
their own new terms. At the same time, they entail a shift of the major arenas
of contestations and of crystallization of multiple modernities from the arenas
of the nation-state to new arenas in which different movements and societies
continually interact and cross each other” (Eisenstadt 2001: 338). Therefore,
he believes that modernity has not been transgressed by post-modernity, but is
‘on endless trial’ (Kolakowski
To end my paper with the
example of India (cf.
: For the majority of Indian intellectuals globalization has a negative
connotation. In the Marxist tradition they consider globalization as an imperial
strategy of international capitalism – forcing non-western societies to open
their borders for western products, capital and culture. It provides another
phase of neo-colonialism, a “New East India Company” which is directed
against India’s independence.
On the political level the
strong nationalist and anti-global movements are a coalition of right-wing and
left-wing forces, named Shang-family, which formed the swadeshi
movement and developed the Hindutva concept, integrating the secular
nation and sacred, transcendental order. On the economic level they support
protectionism: subsidies to Indian enterprise against the world market. Their
supporters are the highest castes who – under the premise of joint Hindu
origin – legitimize and legalize their caste privileges. For them western
cultural values, secularization and equality are dangerous; they undermine their
privileges within the caste hierarchy and the caste system as such. But there
are also a number of proponents of globalisation and liberalization in India,
and they belong to the anti-caste movement, the Dalits (formerly untouchable).
In globalization and adaptation of western values they see an opportunity to
overcome the caste system. For the latter the local is the potentially and
Even Indian sociology is shaped by a view of modernity
distinct from the West. Against the perspective of modernization theory that
many developing countries are dual societies with a traditional and a modern
sector, the ubiquitous Indian position is according to Deshpande (2003:
, that tradition and modernity are components of the same personality, a
specific ‘cultural schizophrenia’ (Srinavas 1971:
, although not pathological. To put it on Eisenstadt’s terminology, the
tensions of modernity have been internalized.
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