Tag Archives: Globalization

After Theory (contcult)

 At this point in your reading you’ll have noted that for Eagleton, theory is, as he writes, politics by other means. Much of the theoretical work from the 60s through the 80s was a dialog with Marxism played out on the terrain of culture. If the Soviet experiment was ossified by Stalinism and eventually crumbled under its own weight, the radical impulses of the left sought other domains of synthesis and expression. With mass social movements sputtering to a halt (an exception being the rise of alternative globalization/ anti-captitalist fronts) the possibilities of human liberation– always the core of any left-radical tendency– seemed best addressed not in the streets but within the autonomous spaces of the dance floor or the university. As Eagleton notes, this transition from confronting the State in public square to reflecting on the nature of power and its relationship to cultural production and consumption, was no substitute for effective, organized dissent. At the same time, however, advances were made in the effort to come to terms with the shifting dynamics of capitalism. 

“If culture began to be more crucial to capitalism in the 1960s, it had become well-nigh indistinguishable from it by the 1990s. This, indeed, is part of what we mean by postmodernism. In a world of film-actor Presidents, erotically alluring commodities, political spectaculars and a multi-billion-dollar culture industry, culture, economic production, political dominance and ideological propganda seemed to have merge into a featureless whole. Culture had always been about signs and representations; but now we had a whole society which performed permanently before the looking-glass, weaving everything it did into one vast mega-text, fashioning at every moment a ghostly mirror-image of its world which doubled it at every point. It was known as computerization.

“At the same time, culture in the sense of identity had grown even more pressing. The more the system unfolded a drearily uniform culture across the planet, the more men and women aggressively championed the culture of their nation, region, neighbourhood or religion. At its bleakest, this meant that the narrower culture grew at one level, the more it was spread thin at another. Blandness found its response in bigotry. Rootless advertising executives jet-setted in the skies over those for whom not sharing the same piece of sky as themselves meant to be hardly human” (48-49).

Loosely speaking, “theory” was (is) both a symptom and a response to this situation. As the people of the world become more interconnected and alienated from one another, as whole economies intertwine and national/ethnic/religious differences deepen, the demand for some new means of understanding and, crucially, addressing these contradictions becomes more pressing.

Neoliberals, like the free trade advocates of the 18th century, believe that the master-mechanism of the market is providential, an “invisible hand” whose motions bring the system into equilibrium. Left free of hindrances in the form of State intervention, the market will fulfill human needs in the most efficient manner possible. During the 1990s, what some might call the era of the “Washington (DC) consensus”, that view had many adherents. In the last decade or more, however, as disparities in wealth sharpen, fewer people are willing to submit to the logic of “market fundamentalism.” In Geneva this summer, for instance, global trade talks failed after several nations refused to accede to a US demand that local (national) markets remove protections (in the form of import tariffs) for their farmers. To anyone familiar with the history of US capitalism this demand was patently hypocritical: the US, especially in its earlier years of development, has had one of the most protected economies in the world. 

This isn’t an economics class, obviously, but one more item to note in the category of breaking news:

“The US government today announced the biggest financial bailout in the country’s history as it took troubled mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae into temporary public ownership to save them from collapse.”

Such intervention directly contradicts the tenets of Free Trade. You can read the whole story here

Finally, a pdf version of Mike Davis’s essay Planet of Slums.

Unsaid2 (contcult)


Glancing back over the syllabus it’s clear enough we didn’t exhaust the possibilities– but who can really blame us with a topic as capacious as Contemporary Culture? For those with unslaked appetites, consider reading David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity, now in its 25th or 26th printing. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more interesting or influential account of the period in which we live. Also, Robert Hughes’ entertaining and enlightening BBC series The Shock of the New, available on dvd and youtube, traces the development of modern art from Impressionism to Pop. Remember when we talked about visual representations of space, comparing medieval paintings to Picasso? I ripped that from him, as well as a few ideas from Stephen Kern’s The Culture of Time and Space

How about Globalization? Well that’s a long story. But here’s the jist: 

About 12,000 years ago small bands of hunter-gatherers arrived at what is now known as Tierra del Fuego, completing a journey first begun by African hominids a million years before. We can think of this as the pre-history of globalization. As some of these pioneers settled, their material lives were transformed. They began to create other methods of subsistence such as agriculture. As their nascent societies coalesced, labor was divided and political authority centralized. Artisans, bureaucrats, and priests developed their crafts. The symbolic domain of human experience in terms of art and language expanded. These were vital social technologies that would lead to increased exchange and interaction between different people. Roughly 9 or 10 millennia later writing was invented in Egypt, China and Mesopotamia. Around the same time the inhabitants of Southwest Asia conceived the wheel. The first age of Empire arrived, linking disparate tribes and linguistic groups across vast expanses of space. Of these premodern agglomerations one of the most impressive was the Chinese Empire (221 BCE) which lasted 1,700 years and embarked on an incredible succession of discoveries in the areas of philosophy, engineering, astronomy and chemistry. Yet it was the standardization of cart axles which probably produced over a longer term the profoundest effect on Chinese society: an increase in trade. The fabled Silk Road was one crucial conduit for trade among many, stretching over 5000 miles and linking China to Africa and Europe. With trade came economic and cultural exchange, migration and intermarriage– the dissemination of religious doctrine, new technologies and microbes. Urban centers grew. Regions were integrated. Cultural and economic activity intensified. With the advent of the caravel, the nations of Western Europe began a period of heightened commerce and exploration which eventually resulted in the opening of what were then known as the antipodes: a new world.

Miranda: O, brave new world, that has such people in’t!

Prospero: ‘Tis new to thee.

Without American gold and silver, Europe would likely have stagnated. And, as Jared Diamond phrases it, without guns, germs and steel none of that gold could have been taken from its indigenous ‘owners.’ By the late 18th century an intercontinental web of trade linked Europe, littoral Africa, parts of Asia, the Americas and much of Oceania. 

to be continued…



Thinking Africa (contcult)

I’ve been reading up on Africa of late– Zimbabwe, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular. In the course of this study I came across an article by Anup Shah at GlobalIssues which addresses the issue of “Africa’s first World War”, the conflict in DRC:


The article goes as far back as Belgian colonization (1885)– when King Leopold claimed the area as his personal possesion– and covers the vicissitudes of national independence and Western neo-colonialism.  Of particular note is the reference to coltan, a very valuable mineral used in the production of cellphones. During the conflict in DRC various armed groups funded themselves by selling coltan and the money those sales generated went to the purchase of arms. It goes without saying that this telecommunications version of “blood diamonds” ended up in the United States. Your cellphone may contain some. So much for “free” minutes. The point here, at least in terms of HUM 415, is the nature of globalization: we have become increasingly bound up with one another even if we dismiss that fact as irrelevant. Yet there seems to be a paradox here: even as economic relations grow more complex and entangled, consumer technologies available in the First World work to seal us off from one another or limit our contact to a narrow range of acquaintances. If we’re intellectually curious enough, we know significant events are transpiring around the globe– we can witness them at one remove via internet, etc. At the same time ipods, cellphones and pc’s constitute a social landscape that is either purely individuated or stripped down to a micro-community. Even the nominal collectivity of the latter is strange as it is more often than not mediated through electronics. So, a contradiction: widening fragmentation in the midst of deepening imbrication.