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Heiko Schrader

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 Processes and Modernities

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 participation).

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: 16-17 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’[2]  (Walzer 1995) 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 1969) , 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 2001: 329) . 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 1990) .

To end my paper with the example of India (cf. Omvedt 2000) : 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 really dangerous.

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: 35, 57) , that tradition and modernity are components of the same personality, a specific ‘cultural schizophrenia’ (Srinavas 1971: 54) , although not pathological. To put it on Eisenstadt’s terminology, the tensions of modernity have been internalized.


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[1] This paper is an outcome of lively discussions at the University of Mumbai about globalization and multiple modernities. During these discussions it became clear to me that perceptions of globalization and modernity are culturally embedded. While liberal Western scholars celebrate globalization as a success story, and left-wing scholars complain about the social disembeddedness of the economy in a globalized world, many Indian scholars perceive it as a the most recent form of neo-imperialism, thus taking an anti-global (and often anti-Western) stance.
[2] The European model of nation-state is based on values of Enlightenment, liberalism, individualism, humanism, state monopoly of violence and democratic structures, separation of powers, rule of law, protection of privacy, freedom of press, social security systems, participation, freedom of coalition, etc..