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Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (review)

From: Journal of World History
Volume 11, Number 1, Spring 2000
pp. 157-159 | 10.1353/jwh.2000.0021

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Journal of World History 11.1 (2000) 157-159

Book Review

Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization

Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. By Arjun Appadurai. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. Pp. xi + 229. $18.95 (paper).

Nowadays it is perfectly acceptable to state that "we all live in a global village," "the world is shrinking," and "the world is growing smaller." Economists, sociologists, and anthropologists all realize that globalization has dramatically changed the world. However, they do not agree on the causes and consequences of these changes. In particular, what is "new" about globalization? World historians, especially, are aware of the fact that the "shrinking" of the world started as early as 1492 or 1498. Indeed, mass migration, cross-cultural trade, warfare, and colonization have economically, culturally, and politically been changing the shape of world history over the past five centuries already.

In Modernity at Large the cultural theorist Arjun Appadurai has taken up the challenge and has attempted to show what is new about "globalization" in the last two decades or so (pp. 44, 53, 66, 139). His main aim is to focus on the cultural dimension of globalization. He explores how the interconnectedness of migration and modern mass media affects the imagination and defines notions of neighborhood, nation, and nationhood. In his view, it has only been in the past two decades that the media and migration have begun to deterritorialize, which has led to the emergence of long-distance nationalism, "diasporic public sphere," ethnic violence, and the growing disjunction of various economic, cultural, and political aspects of daily life.

Here we arrive at the heart of Appadurai's theory. Appadurai became famous in the early 1990s for his neologism -- the use of the suffix -scape, which, when combined with the appropriate prefixes (ethno-, media-, techno-, finance-, and ideo-), offers a radical new framework for examining cultural dimensions of globalization over the last two decades. Central to Appadurai's theory is that the new global cultural economy "cannot longer be understood in terms of existing center-periphery models" (p. 32). These various "scapes" suggest an alternative spatial rendering of the present: one that is not fixed as a typical landscape might be, but amorphous and flowing in various directions and with various sizes. These "scapes" are the building blocks of the contemporary imagined worlds.

Modernity at Large is best seen as an extension and a repetition of Appadurai's earlier essays. His appealing rhetoric made him very popular among postmodernists. Despite their rhetorical brilliance, however, these essays have their limitations. Why, for example, does Appadurai distinguish only five "scapes," where I could think of many more, such as "science" and "environment." Furthermore, what is the relation between the different "scapes"? Is there any relation, and if so, how does it work? If the main aim of these essays is to offer a new framework for the cultural study of globalization, what then is so cultural about "finance-scapes"? In his first chapter, "Here and Now," Appadurai makes a great fuss over the difference between culture, cultural, and culturalism, but as far as I can see, he does not use his own analytical framework in any of his other chapters. In other words, Appadurai gives us few clues as to how to use his "scapes" in empirical research. This is particularly striking in his other essays, where he hardly refers to his own theoretical model. The main themes of the other essays in Modernity at Large include the "Indianness" of Indian cricket, the use of counting bodies in colonial states as an important new agenda for a critique of colonial rule, and some thoughts on the "production of locality."

Most of these essays refer to another main theme in the book related to "scapes": the fact that modern media and mass migration have separately and together produced an increasing degree of instability in the creation of selves and identities. The near universal access to mass media images has democratized and extended the imagination of ordinary (and often illiterate) people around the world. This extends Benedict Anderson's idea of the "imagined community" of the nation-state toward an idea of "diasporic public spheres." Modernity at...



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