Cultural Identity and Global Process


Jonathan Friedman

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  • Theory, Culture & Society

    Theory, Culture and Society caters for the resurgence of interest in culture within contemporary social science and the humanities. Building on the heritage of classical social theory, the book series examines ways in which this tradition has been reshaped by a new generation of theorists. It will also publish theoretically informed analyses of everyday life, popular culture, and new intellectual movements.

    EDITOR: Mike Featherstone, University of Teesside


    Roy Boyne, University of Northumbria at Newcastle

    Mike Hepworth, University of Aberdeen

    Scott Lash, University of Lancaster

    Roland Robertson, University of Pittsburgh

    Bryan S. Turner, Deakin University

    Recent volumes include:

    Postmodernity USA

    The Crisis of Social Modernism in Postwar America

    Anthony Woodiwiss

    The New Politics of Class

    Social Movements and Cultural Dynamics in Advanced Societies

    Klaus Eder

    The Body and Social Theory

    Chris Shilling

    Symbolic Exchange and Death

    Jean Baudrillard

    Sociology in Question

    Pierre Bourdieu

    Economies of Signs and Space

    Scott Lash and John Urry

    Religion and Globalization

    Peter Beyer

    Baroque reason

    The Aesthetics of Modernity

    Christine Buci-Glucksmann

    The Consuming Body

    Pasi Falk


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    The following collection of essays was produced over a period of fifteen years. Partly as a result of this, there is significant overlap in a number of the chapters. This is due to their focus on a limited number of examples based on fieldwork and historical research. These include Hawaii, Congo, Papua New Guinea and Western Europe and concentrate on themes related to the practice of identity and the construction of cultural forms as they relate to the social forms of experience that are rooted in increasingly larger-scale social processes. Certain phenomena, such as the Central African practice known as la sape and the Hawaiian movement, are discussed a number of times but I have concentrated on several different aspects of the phenomena, whether they are related to ethnicity, consumption, narcissism or models of personal selfhood. The latter chapters especially grapple with a number of relations that I have tried to connect as succinctly as possible in the final essay.

    I have attempted to deal with a series of critical issues in the development of a global anthropology. To begin with, a global systemic perspective requires that our most common categories be deconstructed. This applies most emphatically to the concept of culture itself, since it is the latter that has become so popular a tool and even a weapon in recent discussions in cultural studies and anthropology. The very notion of cultural globalization itself is one of my primary targets. From hybridization to transethnicity, the concept of cultural mixture has been brandished by a large number of intellectuals in a discourse that is becoming increasingly salient and even aggressive in this period of global Balkanization. Much of the language concerns music, meals and popular cultural forms and expresses, in my view, an increasingly clear politics of identification on the part of such intellectuals. Blaming power for ethnicity while praising underclass creativity in its spectacular bricolage of disparate cultural elements is, to my mind, not only to seriously misread the real world, but to make a bid for power. This is the power of the cosmopolitan, not so much the modernist, expert in concrete othernesses now brought together by modern information technology.

    Culture as product, thing, substance is culture disembodied from experience. It is culture neutralized and turned into objects of consumption. The latter, identified, classified, studied and enjoyed by the new culturalist intellectuals, has become a potential basis of power, however insignificant it may prove to be in the end. By identifying the world in such terms, these new pretenders identify themselves as well … a loose network, of course, of people in media, art galleries, journalism, and the ‘cultural sciences’. It is to be noted here that these intellectuals, by lobotomizing experience from the cultural, have also created a peaceful, even charming world for themselves, a veritable cocktail party of mixed up differences. An adequate global anthropology must understand the emergence of this form of identification and self-identification as well as the latent social group which appears to be surfacing in the process. This can only occur by maintaining a perspective in which cultural processes are understood as embedded in life worlds, life spaces, social experiences that are themselves susceptible to analysis. It is for this reason that I have concentrated on the way in which conditions of social existence are distributed in the global arena and the processes involved in their formation and reproduction over time.

    In such terms it can become relevant to ask just why cultural studies have become so popular today, why ethnic identity, roots, religion and indigenous movements have simultaneously been on the rise. It has recently been suggested by a number of social scientists from different countries (Berger, Maffésoli) that we are entering an age of tribalism in which individualism is declining and being replaced by increasingly strong collective pressures. Alain Minc has referred to all of this in terms of a New Middle Age (Minc, 1993).

    This book provides a kind of predictively accurate model of the kind of concerns that have now begun to appear to be obvious to many researchers. This in itself might be understood as an argument for a global perspective that does not shy away from grappling with the macro-economic and political processes that shape our world as well as the cultural processes that are so intimately intertwined with the former. The assuredness with which many simply reject as absurd the possibility that this ‘civilization’, or rather civilization in this part of the world, might be in a serious crisis of disintegration and decline is really quite as illuminating as it is comforting. It is, after all, primarily some of our culture experts and postmodernists that have maintained an evolutionary view of Western or global society, and this in the face of the obviously messy and violent state of the world. Are they the pretenders to the urban lofts of the future, the Bunker Hills in the sky, where they can contemplate the riff-raff bladerunner creativity that we appear to be rapidly approaching?

    The position taken throughout much of this book is diametrically opposed to the image presented above. This is not, in my view a straw-man image, even if I have done my best to rarefy it in this brief space. It is a core strategy, I feel, fueled to some extent by a certain fear of contemporary social realities, but also the kind of ideological escape that harbors pretentions to dominance. It is of utmost importance that we dig in to the problems that confront us rather than hiding from them, either by ignoring them or by translating them into more palatable titbits of intellectual consumption. It is necessary, I feel, to argue for a perspective in which it is clear that great centers of civilization, as global systemic products, have all tended to collapse and that it would not be unusual if the same thing were to occur again. It is necessary to study the processes involved, from economics to psychology, in the centralization of global systems as well as their fragmentation. It is necessary to explore the connections between the disintegration of a hegemony, the rise of new classes and the fall of old, the processes of lumpenization, ethnification, indigenization as they relate to multinationalization, the rise of new hegemonies and the emergence of new central regions. Now of course world music, world food and the lot are part and parcel of all of this, but we should not concentrate merely on the former to the exclusion of the nastier realities that are indissociable from them.

    The essays assembled here have been partly reworked from published and unpublished articles and papers. They are very much the spin-off of work that began in the early 1970s and which has begun to bear fruit. As I say in Chapter 1, much of this work was initiated by my wife, Kajsa Ekholm Friedman, and the past twenty years of cooperation have been so intensive that I see this collection primarily as a testimony to these two decades of interaction. A number of other colleagues and students have throughout the years played a very significant role in the development of a global systemic anthropology. There are so many people that have been involved in the production of these essays, aside from Kajsa Ekholm Friedman, throughout the years that I can only name a few: The critical discussions surrounding history, archaeology and anthropology included Mike Rowlands, Mathew Spriggs, Kristian Kristiansen, Lotte Hedeager, Mogens Larsen, Chris Tilley, Nick Thomas, Johnny Persson and many others. The work on history, culture and identity owes great thanks to Michael Harbsmeier, Poul Pedersen, Steen Bergendorff, Ulla Hasager and Andrew Gray. The seminars at our institute in Lund have proved to be fertile ground for the development and elaboration of many of the ideas presented here. Among those participants were Katarina Sjöberg, Anders Hyden, Jan Sjökvist and Melcher Ekströmer. The late Roger Keesing of McGill University was both discussant and supporter for many years and Bruce Kapferer of University College London has been a source of inspiration, heated discussions and many fine seminars in exotic places over the years. Mike Rowlands, also of University College, has been a major partner and contributor to the global anthropology project, and he and Susan Frankenstein opened many of the theoretical and anthropological doors that have made this project a success. The Center for Research in the Humanities in Copenhagen was also a staging ground for many of the ideas and projects that have gone into this book and I thank all the visitors as well as the ‘chief’ Mogens Trolle Larsen for providing such an unusually high-standard meeting place for research and discussion.

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