Journal of World History 13.2 (2002) 532-537
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Globalization and Culture
Globalization and Identity:
Dialectics of Flow and Closure
Globalization and Culture. By JOHN TOMLINSON. Cambridge, Oxford: Polity Press, 1999. Pp. vi + 238. $21.00 (paper).
Globalization and Identity: Dialectics of Flow and Closure. Edited by BRIGIT MEYER AND PETER GESCHIERE. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 1999. Pp. 338. $28.95 (cloth).
World historians do not seem to have much interest in the debate on globalization. This might be due to their "natural" aversion to postmodernism, latest fashions, and hypes. While anthropologists, sociologists, and economists are fascinated by the development of new technological development in the transport and media sector—which causes the globalization process—world historians somewhat silently question whether the process of globalization is new at all. They are aware of the fact that the impact of the steamer, radio, telegraph, and telephone in the late nineteenth century may have been as revolutionary as is the internet today. However, globalization is about growing interaction in world history, which is our main object of study, after all. And therefore it would be too easy to write the debate on globalization as a literary exercise. Both books under review are not written by world historians. Despite this, these books are highly relevant for our purposes. The book by John Tomlinson brings culture—a much-neglected aspect of globalization—to the center of the debate. Though its main focus is on "contemporary culture" in relation with the globalization process, it introduces a complex of postmodern concepts which may be useful tools in world and comparative history.
In this review I would like to focus on "deterritorialization," which Tomlinson introduces as the cultural condition of globalization (chapter 4) and "mediated communication" (chapter 5). One of the key assumptions in the globalization debate is that globalization fundamentally transforms the relationship between the place we inhabit and our cultural practices, experiences, and identities. Places as such are no longer the clear supports of identity. Deterritorialization means, e.g., that Chinese culture is no longer a monopoly of the region China. Chinese [End Page 532] culture is seen—though in all kinds of variations—in virtually every Chinatown on the globe. However, deterritorialization not only refers to the travel and transformation of culture but also to those who stay in their place of origin and "receive" or are being confronted by these "traveling cultures." And this may result in developments like the fact that Chinese and Indian "take-aways" now outnumber fish and chips in Britain (p. 122).
Tomlinson is very aware of the objections against the concept of deterritorialization. He nicely shows that within the globalization debate there is a strong myth of premodern localism. The old dichotomy traditional vs. modern is reinvented in this debate. In this dichotomy the traditional world is seen as static, unchanging and the modern world as fluid, mobile, and interacting. He, however, rightly argues with the culturalist Arjun Appadurai that "natives, people confined to and by places to which they belong, groups unsullied by contact with a larger world, have probably never existed" (p. 129).
Furthermore, deterritorialization (as globalization) is to be seen as an "uneven process." Not only because it includes "winners and losers," or it reproduces old forms of domination and subordination, but in the sense that it is a complex and varied process. Many parts of the Third World are in effect excluded from the broad experience of globalization. We can travel and see them. They cannot travel and see us. They may watch our soaps; we don't see their films. We "see," by and large, only Third World disasters, hunger, and corruption. They mainly see our success stories, the political leadership, the multinationals, the American way. And maybe because of this, subordinate groups in the West as well as large parts of the South may, precisely because of their positioning within the uneven process of globalization, actually have a more acute experience of deterritorialization than those in the First World.
Finally, deterritorialization includes the concept...