- Rethinking Theory in Practice:Response to Margaret Randall's AFS Address
Until now, a significant number of unsubstantiated beliefs have continued to be held in the form of myths, truths, and practices. These beliefs have continued to inform social, cultural, and political relations around the world. For centuries, dominant groups have established their social relationships to "Others" on the basis of ideas of class, race, and ethnicity. Those Others have also remained the objects of fascination, entertainment, and study. Western and the Euro-American mainstream societies have not recognized the Others as agents, carriers, and makers of their own history. It is still believed that those Others do not have culture, but, rather, they have folklore. They practice superstitions, but not religion. They speak dialects, not languages. They produce folk arts and crafts, but not high art. Consequently, the Others have become the crucial reference point of the ethnocentric positions of the West and, lately, of the United States.
In response to Margaret Randall's address, I would like to suggest the application of some of her ideas in other contexts. In the first place, I discuss the relationship between current discourses of globalization and modernity and their contradictions. Thereafter, I reflect on the distinct responsibilities that scholars should keep in mind while conducting and producing research.
Recent discussions on globalization (García Canclini 1989; Harvey 1989; Giddens 1991; Rosaldo 1994; Appadurai 1996; Baumman 1997; Clifford 1997; Taylor 1997; Sassen 1998) suggest that a great fallacy has been promoted by thinking of globalization as a homogenizing social force in which people of the world are made to be part of a single society or global community. Likewise, it is impossible to think of the existence of a "global culture," if we consider that each social group is composed of people who share particular ways of life, history, beliefs, values, foodways, language, costumes, dances, musics, and so on. What is possible to identify, however, is the process [End Page 349] of globalization of cultures when they transcend the nation-state units and occur on transnational settings (Featherstone 1990). At present there is a strong trend to create feelings of commonality and identify an integrated global culture. Nonetheless, no such global culture can exist here, there, and everywhere, especially when cultural products become artificial and disposable and serve the profit-based agendas of transnational corporations (Smith 1990).
Also, it has been argued that concepts such as globalization and modernity are products of ethnocentric positions of the West (King 1995). In other words, globalization is seen not only as a product of modernity, but also as an invention of Euro-America. According to Zygmunt Baumman (1997), Homi Bhabha (1998), Mike Featherstone (1996), Roland Robertson (1995), and other social thinkers, modernity has remained an ambiguous and controversial term. On the one hand, it refers to the quality of being modern, that is, belonging to the present period in history. On the other hand, modernity has been associated with notions of industrialization, economic development, social progress, improvement, efficiency, technology, and cosmopolitanism. What have been the social, cultural, and political consequences of creating these categories? And who benefits from these ideological constructs?
These Eurocentric conceptions about globalization and modernity have not only legitimized a series of values, practices, and unsubstantiated beliefs in Western thought, they have justified the projects and goals of modernity. Such ideology has created a series of mechanisms and institutions that have made us believe in the existence of premodern, backward, and uncivilized societies. So far, most references regarding modernity continue to serve dominant groups and their institutions. For instance, the invention of terms such as "Indians," "Africa," "America," "nation-state," "race," and "class" began to develop as part of Western thought to forge a form of social, political, economic, and cultural differentiation that distinguishes the colonizer from the colonized, the rich from the poor, and the invincible from the weak. The invention of such concepts has implied a process of formalization and ritualization if only by imposing their repetition (Anderson 1983; Hosbawn 1983). Consequently, the West, and today Euro-America, has built itself upon a social order based on a series of categories, practices, and...