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Public Culture 12.1 (2000) 177-204

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Prehistories of Globalization:
Circassian Identity in Motion * - [PDF]

Seteney Shami

However undisciplined the term globalization might still be, there is increasing agreement as to the kinds of processes that it points to in the world. Whether interpreting alternative modernities, cultural hybridities, commodity circulations, transnational migrations, or identity politics, globalization theory largely looks to the future, attempting to prefigure the new millennium while eschewing notions of linearity, teleology, and predictability. Concomitantly, the notion of modernity has acquired remarkable fluidity, indicating that it has become plural, uneven, contested, and "at large" (Appadurai 1996). Building on ideas of the past as constructed, invented, and produced, globalization presents itself as a theory of the present moment. Powerfully expressing that "we now live in an almost/not yet world" (Thrift 1996, 257), it captures the in-betweenness of a world always on the brink of newness.

Modernization theory has also been concerned with process, innovation, and rupture, but it is differently invested in notions of the past. In its earlier, more concrete, more confident era, modernity invented an array of pasts. There is the past as Tradition, a timeless, static past whose value lies not in explanation but in revealing the alter ego either as the anachronistic self or the distant other. A different past is History. In one variant, this focuses on the rise of European hegemony, producing a causal narrative of how, why, and when modernity started. [End Page 177] Quite different again is the past as Evolution, an indexical, ascending past that naturalizes the present. A fourth type of past, Antiquity, is indispensable to modernity's prime embodiment, the nation-state, which it territorializes. A fifth is the past as Civilization, a foundation myth featuring the migrations of the spirit of the West from Ancient Greece to present-day democracies. One could go on enumerating pasts, following the lines of Fabian's (1983) discussion of the different notions of Time that, among other things, served the anthropological production of self and other. Anthropology, history, archaeology, and other disciplines jostle one another to lay authoritative claims to the pasts of modernity: alternative pasts characterized by fixed temporalities, marked epochs, and bracketed periods, which work together to define, explain, enhance, and anchor the notion of modernity.

Will pasts be invented by globalization? What kinds of pasts will they be? How will globality trace its genealogies? These are the questions with which this paper grapples at its most general level. They are questions that speak to ongoing theoretical and ideological deliberations: Does globalization represent rupture or continuity? postmodernity or late modernity? Americanization or "glocalization"? I do not presume to give answers, and typologies or classifications would clearly not be the route to follow given the critical differences between the premises of globalization theory and modernization theory (Appadurai 1996). I will instead explore the issue through a closer look at an emergent notion that might be called the prehistory of globalization. Further, I will focus on how the pasts of one small diasporic group, the Circassians, act upon their present engagements with globality and the ways in which they experience a newly accessible homeland in the North Caucasus. In looking at the linkages between Circassian pasts and presents, mobility and migration emerge clearly as a constitutive element of Circassian identity.

To explore the relationship between motion and identity I will juxtapose two texts from different time-spaces. The first is an ethnographic text narrating a journey undertaken by a Circassian woman in 1993 from diaspora to homeland, from Turkey to the Caucasus. The second is an historical text dating from 1854 and documenting the journey of a Circassian woman from homeland to slavery, from the Caucasus to Egypt. The unexpected divergences, convergences, and counterintuitive insights illuminated by the juxtaposition illustrate the changing trajectories of migration, memory, and imagination. They help assess the utility of prehistory as a conceptual link between past and present and reveal the profoundly gendered nature of globalization and its pasts. [End Page 178]

Circassian Migrations and the Diasporic Imagination

Migration and imagination are historically linked processes that...


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pp. 177-204
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Archived 2004
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