Globalization East and West

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Bryan S. Turner & Habibul Haque Khondker

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  • Dedication

    Dedicated to the memory of my mother Kamrunnesa (1923–2008) who did not have the chance to go to school but taught me how to read. – H.H.K

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    Acknowledgements

    We owe a great debt to many for their support and inspiration while writing this book. In many ways, Roland Robertson has been a mentor to both of us.

    Some of the arguments in Chapter 4 appeared in H. H. Khondker (2008) “Globalization and state autonomy in Singapore”, Asian Journal of Social Science, 36 (1): 35–56. The argument of Chapter 5 first appeared in Bryan S. Turner (2008) “Does anthropology still exist?”, Society, 45 (3): 260–6 and has been developed extensively for this chapter. Aspects of Chapter 6 first appeared in Bryan S. Turner (2003) “Class, generation and Islamism: towards a global sociology of political Islam”, British Journal of Sociology, 54 (1): 139–47; (2006) “Religion”, Theory, Culture & Society, 23 (2–3): 437–44; and “Revivalism and the enclave society”, in Amyn B. Sajoo (ed.) (2008) Muslim Modernities. Expressions of the Civil Imagination, London: I.B. Taurus, pp. 137–60. These passages have all been extensively revised for this book.

    Chapter 8 was first published in Bryan S. Turner's The New Medical Sociology and has been rewritten for this study of globalization. Chapter 9 draws upon the discussion of Norbert Elias in Bryan S. Turner (2004) “Weber and Elias on religion and violence: warrior charisma and the civilizing process”, in S. Loyal and S. Quilley (eds), The Sociology of Norbert Elias, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 245–64. An extended and slightly modified version of Chapter 10 appears in Bryan S. Turner (ed.), Handbook of Globalization Studies, (2009). Aspects of Chapter 11 first appeared as Chapter 1 in Bryan S. Turner (2006) Vulnerability and Human Rights, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. It has been rewritten for this study. Chapter 12 first appeared in Chapter 1 of Bryan S. Turner (ed.) (2008) Religious Diversity and Civil Society. A Comparative Analysis, Oxford: Bardwell Press, and has been revised for this work. Aspects of Chapter 13 first appeared in Bryan S. Turner (2007) “Religious authority and the new media”, Theory, Culture & Society 24 (2): 117–34, and in Chapter 10 of Chris S. Rojek and Bryan S. Turner (2001) Society & Culture, London: Sage. These passages have been extensively revisited and revised.

    Foreword: This Millennial Moment

    More than fifty years ago the novelist Philip Roth wrote that actuality is continually outdoing our talents and the culture tosses up figures daily that are the envy of any novelist. This observation is even more relevant at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century than it was in the middle of the twentieth century. Moreover, the comment applies far beyond the realm of novelists. In particular, it certainly applies to many of those who write about globalization. Indeed, by the time this book is published it will, to some extent, inevitably be outdated. This is well demonstrated by the fact that the extent of the so-called economic downturn has only recently become fully evident, in the early months of 2009.

    We live at a time when across the globe there are millennial outbursts concerning particular aspects of the human condition, indicating that we are at the beginning of the end. This, in spite of many proclamations, particularly those issuing from medical and pharmaceutical sources, that individual lives can be infinitely extended and most, if not all, diseases cured. The idea of the perfect global storm encapsulates much of this end-time, apocalyptic rhetoric. Among the most important components of the global storm are global warming, water shortage, salination, fuel depletion, pandemics, famine, “natural” disasters, and demographic changes on a global scale, with attendant problems arising from rapid and extensive migration and the production and reproduction of global diasporas.

    In the present book Turner and Khondker seek to provide a new perspective on – indeed, a new theory of – globalization. This is a highly promising and much needed venture. Here I am concerned primarily to highlight the main contours of the project of theorizing the concept of globalization. Much is made in the literature on globalization of the pivotal significance of interconnectedness – sometimes called connectivity. In spite of this clearly evident feature of the modern world, its newness should not be exaggerated. The theme of global interconnectedness is now to be seen in the work of an increasing number of historians. This is a classic example of what David Edgerton has called the shock of the old.

    On the other hand, in light of recent global fears and disasters, we can readily agree that connectivity is not the only major dimension of long-term globalization. Specifically, what is missing in this regard is the pivotal feature of increasing – or, better, increasingly reflexive – global consciousness. While many sociologists – if not historians and anthropologists – might argue that the latter is a relatively recent characteristic of globalization, this view is not at all realistic. Of particular importance here is the insistence that isolated societies have had no conception of “the world”. To the contrary, an increasing number of anthropologists have shown that so-called primal peoples have had sophisticated views of the world beyond. The increasingly important theme of alterity is demonstrating this, if only in abstract terms. On the historical front the last few years have seen an increasing number of books by major historians, demonstrating that the world was much more global than recent history has suggested, in the sense of both extensive connectivity and reflexive global consciousness.

    In any case, the principle of the shock of the old applies equally to the present global fashion for talking in apocalyptic terms. This can be seen through the ever-growing genre of historical literature claiming that particular periods were more or less unique in their millennial dreams.

    The input of historians and the revival of interest in world, or global, history suggests that the major “contribution” of sociology has, in fact, been to negate globality as a major theme in the understanding of the world; even though, paradoxically and ironically, sociology has been at the forefront of reviving concern with the global, thereby overcoming its classical methodological nationalism, which arose after the deaths of Comte, Saint Simon, and Marx. It must be stressed that this revival has had a relatively long prehistory, exemplified in much of the work of sociologists in the 1960s, in spite of the latter rarely having a full-on interest in “globalization”. Here again we have another example of the shock of the old, although in this case the old is not very old.

    A particularly important feature of contemporary global consciousness is its fractured nature. Currently we find a great mixture of groups arguing for their own interpretations of the world's planetary troubles. For example, in the G20 demonstrations in London of March 2009 many, often rival, groups were protesting – against climate change, against particular kinds of energy, against transnational corporations, against banking systems, inequality and so on. Even though some participants may well have been concerned with the overall picture of a planet in peril, it appears that, on the other hand, each group was, in a certain sense, fundamentalistic. In other words, the tendency seems to have been to reduce a big issue to a much smaller dimension. This is, in fact, what is most plausibly meant by the word fundamentalism – the reduction of a cluster of themes to one particular, allegedly master theme. This feature of global consciousness was well demonstrated in the old nuclear disarmament movement, when adherents seemed to believe that if there were a world consensus on the evils of nuclear armaments then all the problems of the world would be solved. Indeed, this reductionist worldview is still to be found in those who argue that globalization is the cause of all of the problems in the world – teenage pregnancy, rising rape rates, drug addiction and trafficking, prostitution, gang warfare, even traffic accidents etc. Thus, if present trends continue, we may expect global consciousness to increase but only in this heavily fractured form.

    A major but paradoxical element of contemporary global consciousness has to do with the much vaunted idea of late capitalism – one which has been used almost incessantly in the decades since Ernest Mandel first used it. Just as David Harvey has examined neo-liberalism as, in the first place, an ideology (rather than a direct apprehension of a material condition), so has capitalism acquired a similar kind of significance. It is now regarded much more as a cultural phenomenon than it is an economic-material one. Moreover, anti-capitalism is now subject to the same kind of fracturing processes as are the other phenomena that threaten our planetary world – indeed, the universe(s).

    The fractured nature of global consciousness is to a large degree the result of, or is consolidated by, the disciplinarity of contemporary knowledge: sociology, international relations, geography, meteorology, astronomy, surveillance and security studies, biomedicine, comparative literature and cultural studies, and numerous others. It might well be said that these are times of increasing transdisciplinarity – that is, disciplinary mutations that involve considerable overlap of, and interpenetration between, heretofore separate disciplines. One increasingly finds people in a particular discipline more or less duplicating work of roughly the same kind as those in other disciplines. Much of this overlap and interpenetration tends to be overlooked and, thereby, much intellectual effort is wasted. To this it should be added that, in spite of disciplinary globalization, we still live in a world of intellectual nationalism, that is, one in which nation-states compete with each other for intellectual credit and global matters are seen in national terms.

    Turner and Khondker are particularly concerned with the East-West distinction, and rightly so. On the other hand, this geocultural comparison should not lead to sociological neglect of the rapidly crystallizing and aggressive controversy relating to the North and the South Poles. Much of this has emerged via the problem of global warming, with an increasing number of states laying claim to Antarctic and or Arctic territory. Indeed, this may well be the site of the next “world war”. Add to this the threat of cyber wars and the great proliferation of nuclear weapons and we see that risk, uncertainty and fear are among the principal emotive factors in the contemporary world as a whole.

    Returning to the East-West issue, it must be remarked that, to all intents and purposes, the sharpness and prominence of such a distinction primarily derives from the work of Hegel, to be consolidated by such major scholars as Marx, Troeltsch, Max Weber, Spengler and Heidegger. More recently, Said's much celebrated – but increasingly criticized and misleading work – on orientalism has consolidated this old way of thinking. In contrast, Turner and Khondker appear to be working in the relatively new tradition of the increasing number of historians and anthropologists – Goody, Jardine, Colley and numerous others – who have been showing that there has been much more sociocultural interpenetration of the old geographical distinction between East and West, or Orient and Occident. We can now see more clearly that the “East” and the “West” are equal and mutually amplifying “inventions” or constructions. In any case, the numerous historical interpenetrations between cultures “distributed” across the entire world are increasingly the subject of major scholarly contributions.

    It would be a great omission were the global South to be overlooked in any “mapping” of the world as a whole. Thus the debate about black Athena – that is, the impact of black Africa upon Hellenic cultures – is an excellent example. This, however, fades into insignificance compared with the global significance of the Third World – or, in politically correct terms, developing countries. Here again we encounter geopolitical difficulties, particularly with regard to whether Latin America is in or out of the Third World, not least because of the increasing prominence of Brazil and smaller countries, most problematically Venezuela. In the world that we live in imperialism is now taking a very sharp turn, with China, Russia and India becoming the imperialists. In addition – and to complicate matters further – the increasing global prominence of South Africa (along with Brazil) is of great significance. Needless to say, some Southern Hemisphere countries – particularly Australia and new Zealand – have never been regarded as Third World or developing societies, in spite of rather meagre attempts to speak of a “Southern” sociology.

    The attention given to religion in this book is greatly to be welcomed, in spite of numerous and fashionable but clearly wrong arguments that religion is in decline. To cogent scholars of the contemporary global human condition it is exceedingly clear that the world as we know it is and would not be possible without a conception of something “out there”. Herein lies much of the intellectual danger that threatens us. Moreover, the global religious revival is closely bound up with what I call the totalitarian drift. In saying this I have in mind the theocratic, millennial – not to say apocalyptic and eschatological – tendencies which are to be found in the proliferation of novels, computer games, films, pictorial and photographic art, scholarly books and the like. None the less, we must be very wary of the historical record that illustrates that the decline of economic “fortune” leads, paradoxically, to the increasing importance of economics. It is ironic that a significant branch of the study of globalization has amplified – in the form of world-systems theory – this unfortunate tendency.

    Turner and Khondker introduce and dwell on many facets of globalization and illustrate the all-encompassing nature of the study of these global processes.

    Roland Robertson, Scotland, June 2009

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