Jan Nederveen Pieterse
Globalization and Culture: Global Mélange (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003)


Globalization and culture is a fairly well established theme. It has first come up in the work of Roland Robertson (1992) with considerable finesse. Robertson originally came to globalization as a sociologist of religion, so culture is fundamental to his perspective. In globalization studies, culture is prominent in the work of anthropologists, several sociologists, and in comparative literature, media, and cultural studies.

A common thesis in media and cultural studies is global cultural homogenization. Another recurrent theme, particularly in the context of political science and political journalism, is ethnic politics (ethnic cleansing and new nationalisms) and religious fundamentalism, suggesting a link between globalization and local identity politics and a combination of integration and fragmentation. Consequently much literature is polarized in diagnosing either growing global cultural uniformity (in the trail of commodification, consumerism) or increasing cultural differentiation, a kind of global "Lebanonization" or cultural fragmentation. While culture figures in many treatments it often seems to do so as the annex of another paradigm or problematic. A trend in sociology is to revisit, through globalization, the discussion on modernity, and a trend in political economy is to revisit, through globalization, the debate on capitalism. The career of globalization coincides then with the career of modernity (1800 plus) or with that of (modern) capitalism (1500 plus). Other approaches focus on the relationship between late capitalism and culture. Both modernity and capitalism are quite pertinent, but if discussing globalization is another way to continue the conversation on modernity there is a risk of carrying on an Atlantic conversation extrapolated to planetary scope. Would it make sense to expect treatments of globalization to be global in spirit?

Distinctive about this book is that it takes a historically deep approach, develops the perspective of global mélange or hybridization, and problematizes culture. Hybridity, a well-established and controversial theme, is the leitmotiv in this work. I develop this in several chapters and try to make this a comprehensive treatment. In developing this perspective, I take a distinctive position in the analysis of globalization: one that is historically deep (and geographically wide). Most globalization studies tend to be confined to a narrow time frame. Most economists view globalization as a matter of the past decades. For social movements, such as the World Social Forum, the key issue is neoliberal capitalism, so engagement with globalization becomes a polemic with neoliberalism. I share this concern (and discuss it in several publications), but I also find that globalization refers to a much wider and deeper human rendezvous. This is particularly relevant in relation to culture. As pressing or momentous as current issues are, there is more to globalization than its current form. A deep historical perspective on globalization is a view held by several anthropologists, historians, and paleontologists. Taking a long view has profound consequences for one’s understanding of globalization. Probably one’s choice of discipline and, within a discipline, one’s choice of outlook and problematics are shaped by one’s biography and reflect existential dispositions. This certainly applies in my case.

While most of my work has been in sociology, development studies, political economy and intercultural studies, I’m an anthropologist by training. At the University of Amsterdam at the time cultural anthropology was synonymous with "nonwestern sociology," so the line between anthropology and sociology was thin. My family background also shapes my outlook. I am from a Dutch East Indies colonial family. One ancestor came to Java in the early 1600s as a noble-merchant with the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC). The family remained in Java and the archipelago over three hundred years, mixed with Javanese, Portuguese, French, Germans, and others, and steeped in Indo-Dutch mestizo culture ("tempo doeloe"). My father’s line goes back to East Indies from the early 1800s. The family came to the Netherlands only after the Second World War. I was born in Amsterdam eleven days after their arrival, the only member of the family born outside Java for many generations. We are therefore Eurasians and hybrid in a genealogical and existential sense. This is not a matter of choice or preference but a just so circumstance. That it happens to be a matter of reflection is because my work is social science. My family history then is steeped in the history of western expansion, colonialism, and intercontinental migration. And this is only the known, recorded history. I don’t mention this because I think it is unusual but rather because I think it is common: one way or another, we are all migrants. I feel affinity with the world’s migrants and am inclined to view human history in a global setting, not merely since the past fifty years or so, but for hundreds and indeed thousands of years. My choice of studying anthropology reflects this background. My personal history includes several intercontinental migrations: to West Africa to teach sociology in Ghana; to the United States to study world-scale sociology, which at the time meant world-system theory; to the Netherlands, where I taught at an international graduate school of development studies; and again to the United States to work on transnational sociology.

These themes run through several chapters. Chapter 1 discusses the perspectives of different social science disciplines on globalization and their widely divergent time frames. Chapter 2 sets forth outlines of a deep historical approach to globalization. Globalization and modernity is discussed in chapters 2 and 4. Chapter 5 discusses global mélange in the longue durée.

A brief guide to the chapters is as follows. The first chapter sets forth the general problematic of globalization by presenting areas of agreement and dispute in the literature. Globalization invites more controversy than consensus and different disciplines hold widely diverse views on the fundamentals of globalization. Contemporary accelerated globalization refers to a new distribution of power that comes in a package together with informatization and flexibilization in production and labor, while neoliberal globalization adds deregulation, financialization, and marketization.

Chapter 2 asks whether globalization involves a trend towards human integration and develops a historical perspective on globalization. Visions of human unity are part of our legacy, but are confronted with steep and growing global inequality. Globalization is a long-term, uneven, and paradoxical process in which widening social cooperation and deepening inequality go together. This perspective is examined from the point of view of migration and diasporas, whose role has long been underestimated.

Chapter 3 takes us directly into the globalization and culture debate. This chapter finds that there are three fundamentally different paradigms of cultural difference: differences are lasting; they yield to growing homogenization; and they mix, generating new differences in the process. Thus, according to the "clash of civilizations" view, cultural difference is enduring and it generates rivalry and conflict. In the second view, global interconnectedness leads to increasing cultural convergence, as in the global sweep of consumerism, in short "McDonaldization." The third position holds that what have been taking place are processes of mixing or hybridization across locations and identities. This approach is elaborated in two chapters on global mélange.

Chapter 4 sets forth the basic thesis of globalization as hybridization. Globalization is usually interpreted as a process of homogenization, but does this make sense considering there are multiple globalization processes at work? Globalization is also often tied up with modernity, but this amounts to a theory of westernization, which is geographically narrow and historically shallow. This chapter argues for viewing globalization as hybridization—structural hybridization or the emergence of new, mixed forms of social cooperation, and cultural hybridization, or the development of translocal mélange cultures. Theorizing hybridity and examining the politics of hybridity shows the variety of hybridities, from mimicry to counterhegemony. Two distinct concepts of culture are in use—territorial and translocal, inward and outward looking—which produce divergent views on cultural relations and globalization. Hybridization refers to the closed concept of culture and to its opening up, in the process ushering in post-hybridity.

Chapter 5 develops this perspective further in response to criticisms of hybridity. According to anti-hybridity arguments, hybridity is inauthentic and "multiculturalism lite." Examining these arguments provides an opportunity to deepen and fine-tune our perspective. What is missing in the anti-hybridity arguments is historical depth; this treatment deals with the longue durée and suggests multiple historical layers of hybridity. The chapter next turns to the politics of boundaries for the real problem is not hybridity, which is common throughout history, but boundaries and the social proclivity to boundary fetishism. Hybridity is a problem only from the point of view of essentializing boundaries. What hybridity means varies not only over time but also in different cultures, and this informs different patterns of hybridity. In the end, the importance of hybridity is that it problematizes boundaries. Chapter 6 rounds off with a brief coda.