Public Culture 12.3 (2000) 679-702
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The Senegalese Murid Trade Diaspora and the Making of a Vernacular Cosmopolitanism
Translated by Steven Rendall
Modernity, globalization, and cosmopolitanism are concepts whose meanings and projects (as manifest in social science literature, as well as in everyday and journalistic communication), largely overlap and coincide at the level of procedures and operational modes. African discussions of these concepts tend to privilege unilateral assimilation of the civilizing mission of colonialism and the modernization necessarily defined by the West. For some time, the latter has been supplemented by Islamic modernity, which is both modern and cosmopolitan. And while Islamic fundamentalist movements have attacked, sometimes in a violent manner, these local and unique forms of Muslim appropriation, postcolonial subjects continue to pursue their ambivalent and ambiguous projects of constructing autonomous or subordinate identities while also struggling to reconcile native temporalities and forms of spirituality with the temporality of the world at large.
There are clearly disappointing outcomes produced by the paradigm that opposes the traditional character of African forms of spirituality to the modernity of world time (le temps du monde), whether it celebrates resistance to assimilation or condemns the alienation in which the latter results. 1 The issue that continues to defy analysis is how to elaborate a single explanation of both the process of globalization and the multiplicity of individual temporalities and local [End Page 679] rationalities that are inserted into it. Can we fully account for the overlapping of local systems of mercantile, cultural, and religious values with the capitalist system --which is Western and universal, at least in its claims and practices--by reference to the concepts of hybridization, postcoloniality, and cosmopolitanism? By contrast, there is the crucial question raised by Arjun Appadurai's work: How can something local be produced within a process of globalization so solidly committed to the celebration of cosmopolitanism? Is it a matter of appropriating this process by "annexing" it? or, rather, of exploiting this process to lend new strength to local idioms, so as to impose on the global scene the original version in place of its translation and adaptation? 2
The complexity of these situations is the source of Stuart Hall's bafflement when confronted by "the discourse of globalization" and the "discourses of hyper-globalization." He explains that in these discourses, "everything is transformed; everything is an outcast in the same way by the global processes. There isn't any local that isn't written through and through by the global. That just doesn't seem to me to be true. It doesn't ring true; I think it's a myth." Reviewing some of the questions that have been raised regarding globalization, Hall emphasizes "the intensification of the commitment to the local." 3
This essay examines and tests two issues raised by Hall. The first issue is the role of capitalist modernity in the process of globalization, and I focus on the possibility of the emergence of modernities that are not, properly speaking, capitalist 4 but are, at the most, non-Western versions or modalities of dealing with acquisition of wealth. 5 The second issue concerns what Hall calls "vernacular modernity," 6 which is, as we interpret it here, the totality of the possibilities and powers of making transactions implemented through both the geography of globalization (the world as a space in which people are able to trade) and the discourses and practices of globalization (the actual operations to make ends meet--that is, to accumulate wealth). I am concerned here with the various forms and expressions of incorporation and inscription into the process of globalization on the basis of a significant locality. From this point of view, we must inquire into the modes on the basis of which native modernity relies on, confronts, and/or [End Page 680] compromises with global modernity and with cosmopolitanism, the latter considered an instrument and a modality of the incorporation of the local into the global.
The "locality" in question here is that of the Murid brotherhood, a Senegalese religious...