BRYN MAWR REVIEW OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE

Volume 1, Number 1 (Summer 1999)

Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi, eds., The Cultures of Globalization.

Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.
393 pp. ISBN (paper): 0822321696.

Reviewed by Ruth Lindeborg

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, postcolonial theory dominated cultural studies of East/West, North/South relations. More recently, globalization has become the critical paradigm of choice. The Cultures of Globalization contributes to this shift, first in the form of a 1994 conference, and now through publication of those papers in a volume edited by the conference organizers, Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi. In the preface and in his own contribution to the text, Jameson clearly feels the burden of giving this now ubiquitous term some specificity. "Globalization," he writes, "is a communicational concept, which alternately masks and transmits cultural or economic meanings"; it "has secretly been transformed into a vision of the world market and its newfound interdependence" through commercial uses of new communicational technologies (55-56). His description of its effects, however, suggests its historical relationship to European imperialism. According to Jameson, globalization produces "an untotalizable totality which intensifies binary relations between its parts -- mostly nations, but also regions and groups, which, however, continue to articulate themselves on the model of national identities . . . ; "such relations are first and foremost ones of tension and antagonism, when not outright exclusion . . ." (xii). Such comments imply we may gain more by seeing connections between the interests and practices of postcolonial and globalization studies than by ranking their ideological or epistemological correctness.

Contributions to The Cultures of Globalization address a wide range of topics, including its philosophical underpinnings and material effects, problems of resistance to the structures of transnational capital, and case studies of regional experiences of globalization (Africa, China, Egypt, India, Korea, Latin America, and the South Pacific). The volume provides a compelling historical context for contemporary globalization via Enrique Dussel's account of the emergence of the first world-system between 1492 and the late seventeenth century Christian era. It also articulates a variety of political, theoretical, and practical dilemmas for progressive activists and academics, most notably in Alberto Moreiras' strategies for a counter-hegemonic practice of area studies, Barbara Trent's account of the obstacles to producing and distributing independent journalism, and David Harvey's insistence upon the necessity of moving from local to global perspectives in environmental activism. Eloquent voices from "South" of the continuing North-South global divide of economic and cultural capital contribute to this account of contemporary globalization. One of the most striking of these is Manthia Diawara's, whose recent work forces re-imagining of this divide. Here his account of West African markets as an alternative site and structure of economic and political globalization runs counter to the pessimism and nationalist longings that characterize many other pieces in the book.

The organizers/editors undermine the impact of their globalizing vision by some conspicuous omissions, particularly of contributors engaged in the local "new social movements" (such as HIV/AIDS, feminist, and local environmental activism) in fact admired by many of the essayists. These exclusions do not seem to be accidental. For what yokes the contributors (with one clear exception) and their varied styles of commentary is an allegiance to Marxist analysis and values. Contributors' common interest in practices of anti-capitalist resistance and their insistence on materialist critique attack conservative optimism about the effects of globalization as well as liberal celebration of migrancy and multiculturalism. I would suggest, however, that including new social movement perspectives would create a fuller portrait of transnational capital, its degradation of much of the world's population, and its capacity to limit resistance through control of resources and production of consumer desire.

Implicitly or explicitly, the essays in this volume equate possibilities of resistance with retaining or gaining sovereignty. Few, however, clarify what is meant by sovereignty (is it economic? political? psychological? cultural? some combination?) or what it entails for social or economic practice. In actual cases considered by contributors, sovereignty seems to signify either pre-modern cultural survivals, actual or remembered (Walter Mignolo); minority cultural production which is nonetheless unable to disrupt hegemonic power (Moreiras, Trent, Geeta Kapur); or, more commonly, a reinvigoration of the nation-state as a means to regulate transnational capital and protect citizens (Jameson, Subramani, Liu Kang, Paik Nak-chung). Such a re-embrace of the nation-state is foretold by Jameson's (in)famous essay, "Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism," and echoed in the work of other Marxist critics working in postcolonial and globalization studies (e.g. Tim Brennan). But asserting the oppositional power of the nation-state in the era of transnational capital strikes this reader as willfully forgetful of the historical relationship of capitalism, nation-formation, and political domination (both internal and external). Again, it is Diawara, writing out of the history of failed anti-colonial nationalisms in West Africa and about the alternative transnational economic order of West African markets, who articulates a specific alternative form of sovereignty capable of negotiating with and around global capital.

Offering up the nation-state as David to the Goliath of transnational capital also obscures an important, largely unacknowledged issue raised by these essays. How is it that the local forms of resistance documented here create their own global connections in opposition to the new economic order? With few exceptions, the contributors seem unable to offer a progressive vision of transnational politics. Perhaps this silence is the legacy of socialism's failures in the twentieth century, or a reflection of a postmodern reluctance to universalize. From this perspective, David Harvey's essay on the limits of local, particularistic politics is especially welcome, for Harvey reminds readers of the necessity of a politics of abstraction which can reach across space and specificity to create more broadly effective social and environmental action.

Read as a collection, the essays of The Cultures of Globalization share one other partially masked concern. Only Masao Miyoshi directly addresses the role of intellectuals and universities in the development of globalization, but this subject runs through almost all of the articles and through the structure of a U.S.-organized academic conference that included two -- but only two -- popular activists among its sixteen contributors. Self-reflexive, the academic contributors portray the anxieties of intellectuals in an age where the tools of their trade -- communication and information -- have become the means of consumer capitalism. Theirs are anxieties of power, aware of academic contributions to political domination, and of powerlessness, fraught with concern about the eroding prestige of university and scholarly work. The desire to break out of this paradox appears most forcefully in the essays of Jameson and Kapur, who long in different ways for the modernist conviction that intellectual and artistic insight will spark popular revolution. Some readers might not share this particular longing. But most of us would find it useful to follow these scholars' example and reflect upon the effects of consumer culture on our work, and the relationship of that work to intensifying binary relations between regions, nations, and their internal constituencies.


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