Political/Cultural Identity: Citizens and Nations in a Global Era


P. W. Preston

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    In November 1989 I happened to be in Germany when the Berlin Wall was opened. At that time it was clear that events which were unfolding day by day would have a profound effect upon the future of European politics and upon the ways in which Europeans thought of themselves. However, when I returned to the UK later in the autumn of that year, expecting to find these matters hotly debated, I discovered a rather ill-tempered feigned disregard of these events. They could have been taking place on a different planet rather than a couple of hundred miles away. As I pursued the ways in which this extraordinary response was articulated, in an essay entitled Europe, Democracy and the Dissolution of Britain, it became clear that many of the UK ruling class wished that they were indeed taking place on another planet.

    The sweeping patterns of structural change in Europe had a broad spread of implications for the polity of the UK. As I pursued these matters I became increasingly concerned with the general issue of the ways in which individuals construed their relationships to the ordered collectivities or polities of which they were members. I have tried to grasp these matters in terms of the idea of political-cultural identity.

    The formal argument presented in this text sets to one side the resources of the extant disciplines of social science in order to recall the classical European tradition of social theorizing with its characteristic mixture of political-economic, social-institutional and culture-critical argument oriented to the elucidation of the dynamics of complex change, and on this basis affirming the utility of an ethnographic/biographical approach to the issue of political-cultural identity. The substantive arguments presented are informed by the formally derived summary claim that structural change entails agent response, so as the world changes around us, then so too does our sense of ourselves as political actors, and they point to the importance of the development of a tripolar global system where the main regions increasingly show discrete forms of industrial-capitalism and distinctive political communities with their own patterns of institutions, action and political-cultural identity.

    The issues addressed here are both difficult and important and I am aware of the limited nature of the contribution of this text. I hope that readers will find it useful in their own work. It is certainly true, so far as I can see, that these issues are likely to become more important over the next few years as the different regions within the global system become more structurally integrated, and as these new forms of regional organization become more routinely evident in the lives of ordinary people.


    The major themes of this book have been occasioned by patterns of reflection undertaken while travelling.

    In 1988–9, as Europe began to be reconfigured, I had the good fortune to be in Germany at the University of Bielefeld, where I was the academic guest of Professor Hans-Dieter Evers. On my return I was moved to write on the impoverished character of the UK public debate in respect of the dynamics of complex change in Europe. Some years later, in 1993–4, I was the guest of Professor John Clammer at Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan. At the time the long dominant Liberal Democratic Party had lost power and the matter of Japan's future and its place in Pacific Asia were being vigorously debated. Again, the business of political-cultural identity was raised. In early 1994 I was in Australia where I was the guest of Dr Gary Rodan of the Asia Research Centre of Murdoch University, and here it was evident that the matter of identity exercised Australians with reference to their deepening relationships with Pacific Asia. And later in 1994, at the National University of Malaysia, where I was the guest of Professor Shamsul, the matter of identity was raised in the context of the post-colonial construction of an industrialized and ‘eastern-looking’ society. Finally, a little later, at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore I found a deep concern with constituting ‘Singaporean identity’ in the context of that country's role within the global system, matters which had found expression in the work of the institute's then head, Professor Chan Heng Chee.

    The present book flows from these sources and offers a preliminary theoretical discussion of political-cultural identity in the context of an emergent tripolar global system. I should like to thank my colleagues and friends in Europe and Asia in whose company I first began to think about these issues, and I am indebted to Jack Brand, John Clammer, David Dolowitz, David Marsh, Earl Smith and my two readers from Sage, all of whom read some or all of the text and made many useful suggestions. The responsibility for the final product is, of course, mine.


    AFTAASEAN Free Trade Area
    APECAsia Pacific Economic Cooperation
    ASEANAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations
    CCPCommunist Party of China
    COCOMCoordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls
    DCDeveloped Country
    EAECEast Asian Economic Caucus
    EOIExport Oriented Industrialization
    FDIForeign Direct Investment
    lSIImport Substituting Industrialization
    MITIMinistry of Trade and Industry
    MNCMultinational Corporation
    MOFAMinistry of Foreign Affairs
    NAFTANorth American Free Trade Agreement
    NATONorth Atlantic Treaty Organization
    NGONon Governmental Organization
    NICNewly Industrialized Country
    NIDLNew International Division of Labour
    NIENewly Industrialized Economy
    ODAOfficial Development Aid
    OECDOrganization for Economic Cooperation and Development
    SCAPSupreme Commander Allied Powers
    TNCTransnational Corporation
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