Part 2. The end of globalization? The questionable paradox of multicultural homogenized non-places

In 1972 the Italian author Italo Calvino published Invisible Cities, in which he sketches a grim prospect of the effects of globalization. ‘If on arriving I had not read the city’s name written in big letters, I would have thought I was landing at the same airport from which I had taken off’. Calvino’s protagonist continues to observe how everything in his place of arrival is similar to that of departure. From the suburbs, he drove through, to the signs and flowerbeds along the roads and products in the stores. Disillusioned and wanting to leave, he is told that he can leave whenever he wants, but that leaving would not matter, as in the end ‘only the name of the airport changes’.[1] While Calvino’s work can be regarded as exaggerated and far from reality, it is undeniable that the increasing mobility of peoples, goods and ideas since the 1920’s have heavily homogenized societies worldwide and reshaped international relations; between states and arguably more importantly, between peoples as well.

The world of Invisible Cities is presented as a single entity; a disputable ‘endpoint’ of the process of globalization.[2] At the time of Calvino’s writing however, the world is split in two distinct blocs: the ‘Western’ capitalist bloc consisting of the United States and most Western-European nations and the ‘Eastern’ Communist bloc, of the Soviet-Union, Eastern-Europe and – until the seventies – The People’s Republic of China.[3] An often-made mistake is to see both blocs as stationary from the end of The Second World War until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Geographical borders shifted as the conflict raged from Asia to Latin-America and Africa, making the ‘Third World’ the battleground of a ‘hotly contested ideological struggle’ as David Engerman argues.[4] Even in Europe; where the Iron Curtain literally visualizes a static line, the ideological struggle often moved beyond that line. In Greece a conflict between the Western-supported government and Communists ravaged the country from 1946 to 1949 and ideologies fueled the rise of an international counterculture as well as uprisings and protests from Budapest and Prague to Paris and West-Germany in the 70’s. The Cold War in a way globalized ‘ideological debates’, as Jeremi Suri argues.[5]

Despite that the ideological dispute between the United States and the Soviet Union already began in the years after the Russian revolution, it wasn’t until the end of The Second World War that this conflicted deepened into the ‘Cold War’.[6] There are two main reasons for this. First, the defeat of Nazi-Germany also meant the end of what Engerman calls the ‘old order’ or ‘conservative alternative’, resulting in the emergence of the Soviet-Union and United States as uncontended superpowers of a bipolar system.[7] Secondly, both communist and ‘liberal-capitalist’ ideology shared a deterministic-universalist vision on the world.[8] Consequently, both tried to spread their ideology while preventing the growth of the other. This was accomplished by funding insurgent groups and proxy wars as well as the use of propaganda like American ‘Jazz-politics’ and Soviet construction projects.[9] Therefore, even while both powers never directly crossed swords; hence the ‘Cold’ War, it was unmistakably a real conflict fought just as much with, what Joseph Nye called, ‘hard’ military and economic power, as with ‘soft’ cultural power.[10]

The longest lasting effect of the Cold War is the increased economic and cultural cooperation that was initiated most successfully by the United States. American initiatives like Bretton Woods (1944) integrated almost all states outside the Soviet-bloc into the capitalist world market, while US-initiated organizations like the United Nations and UNESCO set the tone for further cultural cooperation and exchange.[11] Additionally, through the Marshall Plan (1947) America facilitated the economic recovery of Western Europe, which further strengthened European support of cooperation in first the ECSC and later the European Union. In the 90’s worldwide economic integration would be expanded even further in free-trade deals like NAFTA and APEC and by the formation of the World Trade Organization.[12] While Prasenjit Duara rightly notes that America and other Western nations profited disproportionally from these free trade agreements, it is too simplistic to present 20th century globalization as a one-sided process that reduced all developing nations to the ‘neo-colonial’ providers of raw materials in one-sided trade agreements.[13] The rapid economic development and increasing life standard of many Asian and South-American countries that joined the world market since the 70’s is a testimony to this.[14]

Similar attempts by the Soviet Union to increase economic and cultural cooperation and exchange within its ideological bloc however quickly proved unsuccessful. While the alliance between Soviet Union and the newly formed People’s Republic of China in the 50’s was seen as a huge victory for Communism, this pact didn’t endure for long after the end of the Korean War.[15] Increasing hostility between Beijing and Moscow and improving Chinese-American relations caused China to emerge as ‘third power’ of a tripolar world system in the 1970’s, indeed changing ‘the essence of the Cold War’, as Chen Jian notes.[16] After Mao’s death in 1976, the new Chinese president Deng Xiaoping started a process of ‘reform and opening’, in which China would join the US-dominated capitalist world market.[17]  This process proved so successful that by the beginning of the 21th century many American policymakers began to fear that China would take-over economic and political hegemony.[18] While this remains questionable for the foreseeable future, it’s without doubt that Chinese economic development introduced a ‘third way’ to follow for the developing nations wishing to go down the path of modernity.[19]

Decolonization, migration and the questionable paradox of multicultural ‘non-places’

While at the first meeting of the United Nations in 1946, only some 35 nation-states across the world were present, in the seventies this had grown to some 127 states, mostly consisting of former colonies. While officially independent, new nations were heavily pressured or, in the case of for example Angola, Congo and Afghanistan forced, to pick sides in the Cold War as Duara notes.[20] At the same time, millions emigrated from these new nations to their former colonizer. In some cases, like Algeria’s Pied-Noir or the Dutch Moluccans, because they had worked together with the colonial regime, but more often so in search for economic opportunities.[21] In Europe, they would join millions of other migrants and refugees transforming the cities of many West-European countries in multicultural melting pots. Yet, as both Lucassen and Sayad show, formerly colonized people often encountered hostile, racist, environments where they again had to demand equal rights and treatment.[22]

Despite that migration is often presented as a recent issue that mostly involves migration to Europe, before the 1920’s almost 85% of all migrants originated from Europe.[23] Additionally, while it is important to note that human history has always been shaped by the migration of peoples, the 19th century advances in transport and communication technology allowed for an unprecedented scale of migration that ‘shifted the distribution of the world population’ as Adam McKeown notes.[24] It was largely due to these technologies that transnational networks of migrants, often based on kinship, were able to stay in touch and exchange ideas; reshaping the culture of both ‘receiving’ as ‘sending’ society. African-American musicians for example, not just introduced Jazz to Europe in the 1920’s, but also created consciousness about racial injustice and inequality back home. Stories of Paris as a utopian place without racial bigotry were enthusiastically picked up by African-American press, indeed creating a ‘myth of color-blind France’ in both America and France as Rachel Gillett shows.[25] How much this was a myth, was found out by Maghrebis who migrated to France in the 60’s and 70’s and often encountered racism and discrimination.[26]

At first, it might seem contractionary that the greater mobility of peoples, culture, and ideologies resulted in the world actually becoming more of the same; a complete homogenized ‘non-place’ as Marc Augé wrote in the 90’s. Ideologically the world in the 1990’s indeed seemed to become almost homogenized as communism, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the Tiananmen Square bloodbath, ceased to be a serious alternative to America’s liberal-capitalism.[27] This made the United States the uncontested leader of a unipolar system, to the enthusiasm of both American conservatives and liberals, like Fukayama who announced ‘the end of history’.[28] Culturally as well, the world seems to have become more uniform. Indian curry that in the United Kingdom of the 1960’s was first served as ‘exotic’ to some teenagers, while their parents often despised the ‘smell’, now is a ‘multi-billion-pound industry’ and more importantly, just another ‘food option’, like Sushi and MacDonald’s available in almost corner of the world.[29] While the fear that the mobility of peoples, cultures and ideologies will cause the replacement of ‘the original’, is widespread as the election of right-wing populists worldwide shows, this is too simplistic. It cannot be stressed enough that globalization is no one-sided affair: it does not result in the replacement of one culture with another, instead, globalization is a continuous exchange, without end, that results in ever-changing cultural hybridity.

[1] Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (1972) 128-130.

[2] Globalization is above all the process of rapid exchange that ‘compressed time and space’, making the world ‘feel smaller and distances shorter’ as Inda and Rosaldo note. See: Inda J.X., Rosaldo, P., ‘A World in Motion’, in: Jonathan Xavier Inda and Renato Rosaldo (eds.), The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002), pp. 1-34, 4-6.

[3] Niu Jun, ‘The birth of the People’s Republic of China and the road to the Cold War’, in: Melvin P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad ed., The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Vol. 1 (Cambridge, 2010) 221-243, 234-240.

[4] David C. Engerman, ‘Ideology and the origins of the Cold War, 1917-1962’, in: Melvin P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad ed., The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Vol. I (Cambridge, 2010) 20-43, 40.

[5] As Jeremi suri writes, ‘the counterculture was not about material needs. It focused on unrealized spiritual and ideological demands’ Jeremi Suri, ‘The Rise and Fall of an International Counterculture, 1960–1975’, The American Historical Review 114:1 (2009) 45-68, 51 and for the influence on the cold war on the conflict in Greece see David Engerman, ‘Ideology and the origins of the Cold War 1917–1962’, 36.

[6] David C. Engerman, ‘Ideology and the origins of the Cold War, 1917-1962’, 35.

[7] David C. Engerman, ‘Ideology and the origins of the Cold War, 1917-1962’, 30-32.

[8] For the Soviet-Union, this can be traced back to the Marxist historical theory, while American policy makers in 1930’s came to the conclusion that ‘capitalism needs a global basis’. See: David C. Engerman, ‘Ideology and the origins of the Cold War, 1917-1962’, 31-32

[9] Liz Butner, lecture Thursday 12 October, slide 3 and Penny M. Von Eschen, ‘The Real Ambassador’, in Satchmo Blows up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Cambridge 2006), pp. 58- 91. Examples of Soviet-Construction projects are India’s Bhilal steel plant and Egypt’s Aswan dam. With the latter, the role of the cultural organization of the UN, UNESCO, is especially a striking example on the role of international organizations meant for international cooperation in the Cold War. See: David C. Engerman, ‘Ideology and the origins of the Cold War, 1917-1962’, 141 and the excellent article of Lucia Allais: Lucia Allais, ‘Integrities: The Salvage of Abu Simbel’, Grey Room 50, Winter 2013 (2013) pp. 6–45.

[10] Liz Butner, lecture Thursday 12 oktober, slide 3.

[11] Prasenjit Duara, ‘Decolonization and Its Legacy’, in John McNeill and Kenneth Pomeranz ed., The Cambridge World History, Vol. VII, Part 1 (Cambridge, 2015) 395-419, there: 396.

[12] John Ikenberry, ‘The restructuring of the international system after the Cold War’, in: Melvin P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad ed., The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Vol. III (Cambridge, 2010) 535-556, 536, 545.

[13] Prasenjit Duara, ‘Decolonization and Its Legacy’, 396.

[14] See for example: Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why nations fail. The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (Chicago 2012).

[15] Niu Jun, ‘The birth of the People’s Republic of China and the road to the Cold War’, in: Chapter 11 in The Cambridge History of the Cold War Vol. 1 (Cambridge 2010), 221-243.

[16] Chen Jian, ‘China and the Cold War after Mao’, in: Melvin P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad ed., The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Vol. III (Cambridge, 2010) 181-200, 183.

[17] Chen Jian, ‘China and the Cold War after Mao’, 180-186.

[18] Jasper M. Trautsch ‘Who’s afraid of China? Neo-conservative, realist and liberal-internationalist assessments of American power, the future of “the West” and the coming new world order’, in: Global Affairs, 1:3, (2015) 235-245.

[19] Chen Jian, ‘China and the Cold War after Mao’, 181-184.

[20] Prasenjit Duara, ‘Decolonization and Its Legacy’, 413.

[21] Adam McKeown, ‘Global Migration, 1846-1940’, Journal of World History 15:2 (2004) 155-89, 172.

[22] Abdelmalek Sayad, The Suffering of the Immigrant (Cambridge 2004) 28-62 and Leo Lucassen, ‘Islam and the Colonial Legacy: Algerians in France (1945-2002)’, in The Immigrant Threat: The Integration of Old and New Migrants in Western Europe since 1850 (Amsterdam 2005) 171-96.

[23] Adam McKeown, ‘Global Migration. 1846-1940’, 172.

[24] Adam McKeown, ‘Global Migration. 1846-1940’, 159.

[25] Rachel Gillett, ‘Jazz and the Evolution of Black American Cosmopolitanism in Interwar Paris’, Journal of World History 21:3 (2010) 471-95, there 491.

[26] Leo Lucassen, ‘Islam and the Colonial Legacy: Algerians in France, 1945-2002’, 172.

[27] Chen Jian, ‘China and the Cold War after Mao’, 181-200.

[28] Francis Fukuyama, The end of history and the last man (1992) and John Ikenberry, ‘The restructuring of the international system after the Cold War’, in: Melvin P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad ed., The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Vol. III (Cambridge, 2010) 535-556.

[29] Theodore C. Bestor, ‘How Sushi Went Global’, Foreign Policy 121 (1 Nov. 2000) pp. 54- 63, Elizabeth Buettner, ‘Going for an Indian’. South Asian Restaurants and the Limits of Multiculturalism in Britain’, in: Journal of Modern History 80, no. 4 (2008) pp. 865-901 and James L. Watson, ‘China’s Big Mac Attack’, Foreign Affairs 79:3 (May-June 2000), pp. 120-134.

2 thoughts on “Part 2. The end of globalization? The questionable paradox of multicultural homogenized non-places

  1. Pingback: Part 2. The end of globalization? The questionable paradox of multicultural homogenized non-places – The Philosophical Hack

  2. I don’t think that is necessarily bad. If you think, perhaps, has globalization of the spreading of sameness, likewise it allows human beings to identify themselves as a common sort. I no longer, Or at least I have less observable substance upon which to Orientalize towards a sort of uncivilized other Ness. I can begin to recognize myself in the face of the other, because I’m no longer distracted by the different environment that they live in, as though they are identical with their environment.

    The further, once the human being becomes the globe, becomes the reflection of the globe, it would seem there’s only two options left by which to find other Ness, which is to say, to consolidate that identity which is human, rather than that identity which is European or Asian or Islamic or Christian or atheist, or primitive or civilized or intelligent. These would become more substance of subsequence, rather than substance of primacy.

    The two spaces of other nurse then could be really actual “outer space”, which would include the depths of the earth and the oceans, but also that space outside of the earth, such as the planets in the stars and everything.

    The Anthropocene takes on new meaning because the human being is now the globe, the surface of the globe which it sees as it’s self, reflection of itself. You can no longer avoid looking at it self, and in fact must go inside itself, so to speak, or distinctly outside.

    No longer do we have this gray zone phenomenological uncertainty and nothingness.

    We have distinctly that which is going on inside, how consciousness operates, and we have that which is distinctly outside, how the universe or how physics operates the planets Adams molecules life systems etc.

    Thx. So good.

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