Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity by Stuart Hall – article review and summary

In his "The local and the global: globalization and ethnicity" Stuart Hall sets out to reexamine some of the main questions regarding globalization and its cultural, ethnic and identity related contexts. As an Englishman, Hall examines globalization from the British point of view for which globalization is not a new phenomenon, however one that today bears rather different characteristics than it did in the time of the British Empire. And this is one of Stuart Hall's main points in "The local and the global: globalization and ethnicity" were he claims that the identity of Englishness was formed in the wake of England dominant position in a world that was dominated by nation-states through imperialism.  This identity, Stuart Hall claims, is an exclusivist one which stems from a certain historical moment in which British discourse saw England and the English as ruling and commanding virtually anyone who was not English. All subjects of the British Empire were placed in the position of the "other" in relation to the British eye which saw itself as central. Hall notes that the "British eye" was very good at observing everything else but failed at acknowledging the very fact that it was itself looking at something. This positioning eye positioned everything else in relation to the British, and by knowing what everything else is, it knows what it itself is not.

Hall finds the British identity to be a masculine one. Being English means being an Englishman. In addition, it is quite the demanding task nowadays to convince the British that they are "just" another ethnicity with its own indigenous characteristics, like any other ethnicity. The British ideology is presenting itself as natural, unified and static. Identity, however, is neither one of these and is in constant need of a contradiction in order to stabilize itself.
However, in the current age of globalization British identity is challenged by a number of factors and processes. First the demise of England's economic stance that went from being the first industrialized country to being one of many and not the first among those many. The 70's economic crisis opened the global markets to new game rules of capital and technology. The new relations of production in the age of globalization links developed countries with developing ones and transforms relationship structures between different countries and societies. A second consequential factor which fragments the traditional British identity is the massive work immigration into England. Englishness has been decentralized both by the flow of capital outwards and the flow and work immigrants inwards, the result of England's long rule over third-world countries. An additional attribute of present day globalization is the growing international inter-dependency, for example by the growing constraints of supra-national organization and the loss of complete local autonomy. The final factor Stuart Hall mentions in this respect is that of environmental global effects which threaten England, like all other countries, without the possibility of effecting or stopping them. So the British national identity is growingly being eroded.
But the decline of the nation-state does not mean its disappearance, for Hall argues that the crisis of globalization has led her to be more exclusivist and to seek new and narrower definitions of Brutishness (i.e. Thatcherism) which will determine who is "a part of us", thus leaving a great many people and identities outside. That is to say, the decline of the nation-state in the age of globalization has led to a more radical and aggressive form a racism which attempts at isolating elements of the "authentic" culture from elements which "don’t belong".
The response to decline of the nation-state under globalization goes according to Stuart Hall in two directions, over and under and nation-state, to the global and local. These responses are the result of the nature of globalization which is characterized according to Hall by a "global mass culture" that includes the continuation of western English speaking cultural media products, but now it is no longer the Queen's English but rather English is a variety of tongues. A second effect of this global mass culture that Hall notes is the cultural homogenization it introduces. Contrary to what is widely thought of globalization, it does not shape the world in the image of England or the United-States, but is forging it together from the outlook of the English speaking west. The western hegemony is not trying nor succeeding in eliminating other cultures, but rather to operate on them parallel to their own unique characteristics. The logic of capitalism is not unified and does not transform more and more regions into its counterparts, but is working within the compass of other forces. The world under globalization, in other words, is not so much unified as much as it is decentralized.  

Stuart Hall mentions two manners of coping with globalization on the local level: a return to nationalism and an attempt to contain variation. One of the most important characteristics of the present age is the acknowledgment of the marginal in the central cultures, and marginality which has paradoxically turned into a center of power which tells its stories from the bottom-up, not top-to-bottom. Simultaneously we see a reaction to globalization in the form of returning to the local, community and neighborhood which remain as a concrete place when everything else is turning more and obscure. The strive for such a basic identity is what Stuart Hall terms "New Ethnicity" which can be in itself a type of fundamentalist mini-nationality. And like the unconscious perspective of the old Englishness, so does the new ethnicity strive to position and establish the world surrounding it and everything which is different.     

The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity by Stuart Hall – article review and summary

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