Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalism: Bringing Theory Back in


Paul James

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    For Stephanie


    Writing can be no more than a craft of reflexive passion – and perhaps ideally should be no less. The disposition of the work here is inspired by the classical social theorists: Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, Max Weber, and most importantly Karl Marx, for whom all questions about the human condition are always ethical-political. It is not the specificity of their approaches that animates the present work, but the fact that they were insightful theorists writing with a generalizing and critical force at a time when the nature of disciplinary boundaries still encouraged productive boundary-crossing. The material in the book is also utterly dependent upon the wealth of brilliant research currently being conducted over the past few decades within the fields of sociology, political theory, anthropology and history. When it comes down to it, the present theoretical essay is no more than a speculative and critical synthesis of some of the research insights first elucidated by writers such as Benedict Anderson, the late Pierre Bourdieu, Maurice Godelier, Jack Goody, Tom Nairn, Richard Sennett and Geoff Sharp – to name but a handful of the extraordinary scholars working across the turn of the twenty-first century.

    The book was first drafted in Edinburgh, although the gestation and framing began more than a decade earlier. Tom Nairn deserves special thanks. Apart from being an inimitable social critic whose writing brings politics to life, he sponsored my stay at the University of Edinburgh. Sheila Thomas at the Institute of Social Sciences was wonderfully supportive during that time, and I wish her all the best after the Institute closes under the weight of economic rationalism. I bear the ignominy of being its last Fellow. At Edinburgh, Russell Keat prompted new lines of understanding on old problems, and, together with other members of the ‘Social Theory Group’, critically interrogated some of my newly drafted writing in their fortnightly discussion group. I particularly want to thank Jukka Siikala for invitations to the University of Helsinki supported by the Departments of Anthropology and Ethnography. I learned more about anthropological method from Jukka and his colleagues Karen Armstrong, Clifford Sather and Timo Kaartinen in those all-too-short periods than I could have in years of silent reading. Alan Chun of Academica Sinica in Taiwan facilitated the first writing of Chapter 12 and generously provided the setting for its first public presentation. Chen I-chung and Chen Kuang-hsing, at the ‘Postnationalism and Violence’ conference, critically discussed the paper at length, and James Goodman provided the venue for a second round of criticism at the University of Technology, Sydney. The details of recent and long-ago remembered conversations, suggestions, and extended notes of criticism from Ben Anderson, Sigrid Baringhorst, Jerry Bentley, Joe Camilleri, Jonathan Carter, Peter Christoff, Bill Cope, Phillip Darby, Robyn Eckersley, Jonathan Friedman, Bernard Giesen, Gerry Gill, Barry Gills, David Goldsworthy, James Goodman, Richard Higgot, John Hutchinson, Micheline Ishay, Graeme James, Bruce Kapferer, Roni Kaufman, Bruno Latour, Tim Luke, David Lyon, David McCrone, Peter Mandaville, Walter Mignolo, Sergiu Miscoui, Joel Robbins, Alan Roberts, Jan Aart Scholte, Gyorgy Scrinis, Geoff Sharp, Manfred Steger, Alison Tate, Stephanie Trigg and Oren Yiftachel, sent me off on many sessions of after-hours writing and rewriting.

    I want to express deep gratitude to my friends and colleagues with whom I once worked at Monash University: Peter Lawler (now at Manchester), Andy Linklater (now at Aberystwyth), Robyn Eckersley (now at Melbourne University), Michael Janover, Andy Butfoy, Gloria Davies, Peter Lentini, and Chris Reus-Smit (now at the Australian National University), for providing the environment that sustained my enthusiasm for teaching and research. From reading scribbled critical pages of notes by Michael to struggling with the theoretical architecture of Chris's The Moral Purpose of the State, academic life was always rewarding and the chapters of the book were developed over a decade-long period of teaching a subject called Abstract Communities'. Graduate students such as Chris Scanlon and Leanne Reinke provided excellent research support on questions of money and communications. Tsaelan Lee Dow inspired my thinking across a broad range of areas from notions of the body politic to the nature of the face-to-face. She and Freya Carkeek, Bianca Lowe, Andrew Phillips, Matthew Ryan, Michele Willson, and many others expressed everything from deep criticism to gentle bemusement in ways that influenced the slow gestation of the material. chapter 8, for example, began during that time as an essay first written with Freya and was originally published in Arena. I have used that essay as a palimpsest for writing the present chapter. Although the current version has taken on quite a new life, the conjointly researched manuscript lies buried beneath the chapter's rewritten surface. I thank David Holmes for suggestions for rewriting that essay.

    At RMIT University where I now feel very much at home, I thank in particular Mary Kalantzis and Michael Singh for their foresight in initiating the ‘globalization and cultural diversity’ project, and my extraordinary colleagues in the Globalism Institute for making it happen: Kate Cregan, Damian Grenfell, Hariz Halilovich, Martin Mulligan, Yaso Nadarajah, Tom Nairn, Peter Phipps, Leanne Reinke, Chris Scanlon, Manfred Steger and Chris Ziguras. I could not ask for a more stimulating group of people, or for a more productive environment. Kate and Damian, in particular, have been insightful interlocutors, always struggling to clarify my flights of theoretical abstraction. Hariz compiled the bibliography. Anne Trembath painstakingly constructed the index. Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalism is one small expression of two interconnected collaborative projects on ‘Sources of Insecurity’ and ‘Community Sustainability’ that we are developing in the Globalism Institute with scholars around the world including Tonathan Friedman, Roni Kaufman, Vasilia Kourtis-Kazoullis, Ashis Nandy, Paul van Seeters, Ram Rattan Sharma, Imre Szeman, John Tulloch, and Oren Yiftachel.

    The Australian Research Council provided extensive research-funding support, as did RMIT itself, with Neil Furlong and the Research and Innovation group showing the continuing faith in the Globalism Institute that saw it grow exponentially. I would like to thank the librarians at RMIT, Monash University, the University of Edinburgh, and the London School of Economics, as well as Sarah Millard at the Bank of England archives and the staff in the British Museum's money and time collections.

    Sage Publications is another institution to which I owe a great deal. Robert Rojek, David Mainwaring and Lucy Robinson at Sage have become much more than correspondents over the pragmatics of publications. In this instance, I thank Chris Rojek and Mila Steele for their support and patience, despite a delay of a couple of years after the original contracted date for delivery of the manuscript.

    Perhaps most importantly, the political context for Globalism, Nationalism Tribalism is the Melbourne-based journal Arena. I particularly thank Alison Caddick, Simon Cooper, John Hinkson, Guy Rundle, Matthew Ryan, Chris Scanlon, Geoff Sharp, and Nonie Sharp. I have been writing this book in my head ever since I first read an internationally little-known but seminal article of Geoff's called ‘Constitutive Abstraction and Social Practice’ published in Arena in 1983. As late as I am in responding to that article, Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalism is my way of coming to terms with his ground-breaking writings. In a way this book is a long methodological footnote to his work. He will disagree with parts of the present essay, particularly with its systematizing quality, but he will understand that it is written in a common political project.

    After many years of talking about, and teaching across, its themes, I drafted the text in an intense period of writing, followed by a series of late-night rewritings spaced over a number of years. From contradictory states of passionate hibernation and haphazard crafting, I no longer have any idea if the argument makes sense to the general reader. If it does not, I have only my dear friends to blame for humouring me too much in their reading, and Joel Trigg for sustaining my optimism. Robyn Eckersley and Peter Christoff gave their imprimatur to a couple of chapters at a vital moment, despite suggestions that inevitably led to further rewriting. For what it is worth, the argument makes complete sense to me. It is only in moments of face-to-face candour that I will admit to its many weaknesses. Any remaining gaps I still blame on that anonymous person who once on a hot summer's night in Melbourne left me frozen in ragged pain. It was the night I left my computer unattended in the study at the front of the house, with much of the first draft on its hard drive. I went to watch television. The front door was left open to allow a gentle breeze to enter. When I returned, the computer was gone: in the words of the state, I was the victim of an Agg. Burg. Incident'. To make matters worse, the Microsoft backup system failed, and despite the best efforts of friendly experts, including our brilliant neighbour, Alan Roberts, no one could reinstall the compressed files without the source codes that Microsoft held close to its commercial-in-confidence heart. In a chance meeting of embodied localism and commercial globalism, the failed electronic manuscript threw me back to rewriting much of the project.

    Finally, I thank Stephanie Trigg for her fabulousness. I dedicate the book to her in love, enduring appreciation, and with the hope that the world in which we live will begin to step back from its current madness.

  • Glossary

    Items in bold refer to concepts defined elsewhere in the Glossary. Italics are used either for emphasis or when the reference is to the concept rather than the thing.

    • Abstract community While all manifestations of community from the kinship associations of tribe to the virtual communities of the internet are formed through the abstraction and extension of social relations, the concept has a more specific sense. It is used to refer to those associations of people whose relationship to each other is characterized by the dominance of a mode of integration that can be called disembodied. The dominant form of abstract community since the beginning of the twentieth century has been the nation-state, but this is increasingly being reconstituted through processes of globalization, including the mobility enabled through space-altering and time-altering technologies. In their computer-mediated forms, abstract assemblies, sometimes called virtual communities, enable increased disembodied interactivity between individuals while at the same time increasing the embodied anonymity of each member of that community.
    • Abstraction Abstraction is the process of drawing away from the embodied or particular while maintaining a generalizing connection between those particularities and embodied relations. Abstraction is not, however, the same as dematerialization although in the literature they are often used as synonyms. In the present argument, abstraction is understood as occurring both through ideas and concepts and through material practices and relations. For example, the current concept of the state is an abstraction from the much more concrete early-modern use as the standing or status of the prince, his visible estates. Similarly, the practice of statehood is now constitutively and materially more abstract than at the time when princes ruled as the embodiment of extended power. To take another example, a commodity is more abstract than a gift. This especially so when the gift is given under conditions of reciprocity: first, commodification involves an abstraction of value which allows unrelated objects to be assessed in terms of a medium of equivalence – namely, money; second, a commodity can be exchanged between persons whose embodied relationship to each other is irrelevant for the purposes of the exchange.
    • Agency-extended integration With the dominance of this level, the form of social integration is abstracted beyond being based pre dominantly on the directly embodied and/or particularized mutuality of persons in social contact. It is at this level that persons act in the capacity of being the representatives, the agents, or the mediators of institutions – including church and state, guild and corporation – and their various constituencies. It is only at this level that it makes sense to use abstract terms such as constituency or citizenry.
    • Community The concept of community was established in the English language with an open definition of social connectedness that derived from the Latin for relations or feelings in common. By the nineteenth century, community came to refer to more immediate relationship of commonality as compared to the more abstract concepts of society, polity and state. However, the concept still retained its defining condition as being a category of people with relations in common.
    • Constitutive abstraction This term is used to suggest that process of abstraction is constitutive of social relations and social being rather than just an activity that occurs in people's heads.
    • Constitutive abstraction thesis The ‘constitutive abstraction thesis’ is the general name given to an approach or set of approaches associated with the Melbourne-based journal of social criticism, Arena. It is the basis of the methodology employed in the present book.
    • Disembodied integration Disembodied integration is the level at which the constraints of embodiment, for example, being in one place at one time, can be overcome by means of technological extension, for example, by broadcasting, computer networking or telephoning. As described, this level is more abstract than the ‘prior’ levels of institutional integration or face-to-face integration. Each level of integration is implicated quite differently in the ways we live the relationship between nature and culture, and the ways we live our bodies and the ‘presence’ of others.
    • Extension The concept of social extension provides a way of drawing attention to the different ways in which social interrelations can cross time and space. Radical social extension, for example, through technologies such as electronic communication devices, involves the projection of the possibilities of human interchange far beyond the immediacy of face-to-face interaction. Technologies and techniques from writing letters to setting up digitalized computer banks involve the storage of information extended far beyond the embodied time of a person's memory.
    • Face-to-face integration This primary form of integration is defined as the level where the modalities of being in the presence of others constitute the dominant ontological meaning of the relationship between people even when they are apart. The modalities of face-to-face integration include reciprocity, interdependence, long-term continuity of association, embodied mutuality, and concrete otherness. Under such forms of interrelation, the absence of a significant other, even through death, does not annul his/her presence to us. Hence, it is important to emphasize here that integration is not used as a synonym for interaction. Just as it is possible for persons to be bound to each other at the level of face-to-face integration even when the self and the other are not engaged in immediate and embodied interaction, instances of interaction do not in themselves necessarily indicate anything about the dominant level of integration.
    • GlobalismGlobalism is used primarily to refer to the ideology and subjectivity of globalization. It is possible to have objective processes of globalization occur without either any subjective awareness of the process or any ideological presumptions about its meaning. However, the present condition of self-conscious relative globality is marked by the generalization of an unprecedented reflexivity. Globalism is also used as the generic term that bundles together other concepts such as globalization and globality.
    • Globality Although there is a tendency in the literature to use the concept of globality in an absolute way to suggest that any event, however local, now has global consequences, the concept here is defined relatively. It is used to emphasize, first, the generalized subjectivity of living in a world-space that is taken in a relatively-undisputed way to be globally connected; and, second, the relative immediacy, by comparison to the past, of objective global interconnections and the globalizing effects of actions or decisions taken in networked nodes upon other locales.
    • GlobalizationGlobalization is defined as the uneven and structured manifold of social connections drawn across world-space, taking that space in the historically-variable terms that it has been socially understood through changing world-time, and understanding the matrix of connections as materially enacted through one or more of the various dominant modes of practice: exchange, production, communication, organization and enquiry.
    • Historicalism If globalism refers to the subjectivity and ideology associated with the generalizing of connections across world-space, then historicalism is a parallel temporal process referring to the generalizing connection across world-time – the consciousness of history as linking past, present and future in themselves rather than as teleologically or messianically-connected dimensions. Historicalism is related to the more familiar term, historicism, meaning the increasing reflexivity about the process of being in history.
    • Institutional integration See agency-extended integration.
    • ModernismModernism can be characterized in terms of its dominant ontological forms – that is, by the overlaying of empty, relative and/or bio-technological space-time, corporeality, and epistemology. Modernism, like tribalism, traditionalism and postmodernism, is used in a double sense as an ontological formation and as a form of subjectivity. Modernism as an artistic aesthetic is a subcategory of the subjectivity of modernism.
    • Nation A nation is an abstract community of strangers – objectively abstract in that it draws together people who never need to meet – but experienced subjectively as a community with a distinct form of perceived foundational connection in time, space and/or embodiment.
    • NationalismNationalism is an ideology and, more deeply, a subjectivity associated with being part of a nation. One of the dominant forms of nationalism is the political assertion of state sovereignty for one's nation, but there are many other forms of nationalism that do not depend upon being part of, or wanting to institute, a nation-state. The concept of nationalism, most obviously when used as part of the phrase ‘nationalism studies’, also denotes the general field of scholarly work in the area.
    • Nation-state The nation-state is a very peculiar community-polity that involves the intersection of state and nation. This intersection involves the historical coming together of a particular form of the state – as objectively an increasingly rationalized, modern bureaucratic apparatus – and a particular form of the nation – as an increasingly-abstracted community of strangers, experienced subjectively as a community with some form of perceived foundational connection. Across the world, nation-states were constituted in the uneven intersection of globalizing changes in the dominant modes of practice that included a combination of the following: modern state formation as the outcome of a changing mode of organization bringing with it new ways of organizing authoritative power, including the means of violence; print as the emerging dominant mode of communication; capitalism as an intersection of changing modes of production and exchange; and secular and scientific rationalism as expressive of a changing mode of enquiry that brought with it new forms of education and cultural standardization.
    • Nature/culture contradiction This contradiction arises in the tension between being culturally reflexive about what it is to relate to nature as a human being, and being part of nature as a embodied being. It is one of the foundational ontological contradictions of being human. When the hyphenated form of the concept is used, namely, nature-culture, it is to refer to settings where the contradiction in the relationship between culture and nature is so condensed as to be barely relevant.
    • Ontological contradiction Such contradictions arise in the intersection of different levels of integration, and in the intersection of the cultural practices conducted at those different levels with the world-as-given, ‘the natural’. (See for example the nature/culture contradiction.) They occur as persons negotiate their lives across different ontological formations.
    • Ontological formation To use the concept of ontological formation is to describe a set of social relations in terms of its dominant categories of temporality, spatiality, corporeality and epistemology. The present version of the constitutive abstraction approach refers to the following kinds of formation: tribalism, traditionalism, modernism and postmodernism.
    • Ontological security To feel such basic security is to live a settled life within the framework of a particular ontological formation without being assailed by ontological contradictions.
    • Ontological socialismOntological socialism is defined as a form of social interrelation that negotiates its practical expressions – cultural, political and economic – across the full range of what it has meant historically to be human, from the level of procedural rights to the much more basic questions of co-existence as mortal embodied beings born of both nature and culture. It other words, it refers to a social practice that provides the possibilities for systematically negotiating questions of how we are to live well.
    • Ontology The concept of ontology refers to the most basic framing categories of social existence: temporality, spatiality, corporeality, epistemology, and so on. These are modes of being-in-the-world, historically constituted in the structures of human interrelations. It does not imply a human essence, nor is it confined to the sphere of selfhood.
    • Polity community A polity is an organizational form of governance that a either brings into being or is instituted from above to manage persons and territory. The nation-state is the dominant form of polity at present.
    • PostmodernismPostmodernism is defined in terms of its dominant ontological forms: that is, by the intersection of virtual and/or relativized space-time, corporeality, and epistemology. Postmodernism is used in a double sense as an ontological formation and as a subjectivity. Postmodernism as an aesthetic is a subcategory of postmodernism as a subjectivity.
    • Reflexivity Reflexive consciousness is a form of consciousness that reflects on the particularities and patterns on ideas and reflections. It extends beyond practical consciousness in reflecting on the ‘why’ question while ceasing to take it own framing conditions for granted.
    • Social formation The concept of social formation is used to displace the concept of society and put the emphasis on the process of always coming into being.
    • State The state is a very particular form of corporate institution. It is both an abstract administrative body and a complex of abstractly-interconnected bodies – both an association of persons and the name for an apparatus of governance. It is a body that exerts legitimized and/or enacted power over a people or peoples within a designated territory. Crucial to the definition, each of those notions – legitimation, people, and territory – are taken to vary in meaning according to the cultural definitions of their world-time, and relative to the community or communities in question.
    • Structure The concept of structure is used here as an analytical shorthand for the always-changing patterns of instantiated practice and subjectivity. It is not treated as a fixed or reified thing.
    • SubjectivitySubjectivity refers to one's way of being-in-the-world and how that being is experienced.
    • TraditionalismTraditionalism is used in a double sense as an ontological formation and as a subjectivity. Traditionalism is defined by the overlaying of cosmologically and metaphorically-framed forms of temporality, spatiality, corporeality and epistemology
    • Tribalism Like the concept of traditionalism, tribalism is used in a double sense as an ontological formation and as a subjectivity and ideology. As a level of ontological formation, tribalism is defined as a social frame in which communities are bound socially beyond immediate birth ties by the dominance of various modalities of face-to-face and object integration, for example, genealogical placement, embodied reciprocity and mythological enquiry. As a subjectivity and ideology, tribalism refers to the accumulation of practices and meanings of identity, practically assumed or self-consciously effected, that either take the social frame as given (as subjectivity) or as politicized in some commonsensical way (as ideology). Tribalism, the pre-historical phenomenon available to us through archaeological research, can only be theorized by inference and circumstantial evidence. It is thus easier to examine tribes-in-history, through oral, material or written evidence. It is this historical tribalism that we can characterize as most often ontologically framed as variously customary tribalism, traditional tribalism, modern tribalism and postmodern tribalism.
    • World-timeWorld-time, akin to the better-known concept of world-view, refers to the broadest framing conditions of the objective or subjective relations under consideration.

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