- Contesting Globalisms: The Transnationalization of U.S. Cultural Studies
Duke University Press’s recent publication of two cultural studies volumes on globalization plays out an interesting paradox. While both collections signal the need to study the role of culture in a world characterized by geopolitical re-alignments, they approach these changes by expanding available postcolonial, ethnic studies, and Neo-Marxist perspectives into transnational space. This review puts the two volumes into conversation to argue that a globalism which increasingly refuses to be simply colonialism/imperialism in a new guise calls for a rethinking of binaries and underlying assumptions that have routinely shaped this scholarship.
Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi’s collection, The Cultures of Globalization (henceforth Cultures), and Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd’s volume, The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital (henceforth Politics), contribute to the burgeoning field of U.S. cultural work on globalization, which has lagged somewhat behind comparable discourses in economics, political science, and sociology. The two volumes set out to explore cultural dimensions of what they variously term “globalization” or “transnationalism.” To name a few of its most salient developments, globalization is characterized by flexible accumulation and mixed production, the worldwide expansion of free market politics, the spread of U.S. mass culture, and the denationalization of corporations and nation-states in the context of intensified border crossings by culture, capital, and people. In this understanding of globalization, the two volumes follow Immanuel Wallerstein’s thesis of the world-system as a global capitalist economy and/or restrict their inquiries to the last decade of this century. Both collections also acknowledge the weakening ability of nation-states to perpetually reinforce nationalist discourses intended to forge what Benedict Anderson has termed “imagined communities,” even as their state apparatuses continue to facilitate the ongoing transnationalization of capital. Building upon this important distinction between state nationalism and statehood, Cultures and Politics set out to theorize “transnational imagined communities.” These are not so much anti-nationalist in direction but rather pose alternatives to globalizing developments which have been characterized by unevenness and inequality since the beginning of modernity.
Grounded predominantly in U.S. literature departments, the editors of the two volumes recognize that cultural work on globalization ought to question the modernist division of knowledge production rather than constitute a new field of academic specialization. Perhaps as a result of the injunction to be more inclusive, the collections stand out from other works for their sheer length (393 and 593 pages respectively). Many of the contributors to Lowe’s anthology work in ethnic, area, and women’s studies as well as in interdisciplinary humanities programs, while Jameson’s book additionally includes essays from sociology, philosophy, geography, and anthropology as well as articles from culture workers not located within the academy.
Cultures assembles original papers that were first presented at Duke’s 1994 Globalization and Culture conference and subsequently revised to facilitate an internal conversation among the contributors. This process as well as the inclusion of revised critical comments from the audience at the end of the collection are among the volume’s principal strengths and may also explain the time lag between the original date of the conference and the collection’s eventual appearance in 1998. In contrast, several of the articles in Lowe’s volume, which appeared a year earlier, are reprints from other publications. Judging by the endnotes of several essays, the remaining original contributions were first presented at the 1994 Other Circuits colloquium, which was sponsored by the University of California at Irvine.
Apart from two exceptions about which I will say more shortly, both Cultures and Politics are similarly organized: they articulate a “Critique of Modernity” and explore “Alternatives” to the current conditions of globalization by focusing on Third-World localities. Regarding globalization as a form of U.S.-dominated neo-colonialism, specifically as an outgrowth and continuation of European colonialism, several essays articulate alternative conceptions of modernity. Others complicate the academy’s generally critical...