Posts Tagged ‘Global Studies’

The End of the Long Twentieth Century? The Rise of China and the Possibilities of a New Global Fordism

July 11, 2014

Nick Jepson

It is now 20 years since the publication of Giovanni Arrighi’s The Long Twentieth Century, a highly influential and ambitious work charting the evolution of global capitalism over five centuries. Arrighi’s account posits the history of capitalism as a series of secular cycles, each consisting of expansionary material and financial phases. Every cycle is led by a hegemonic state, which houses an alliance of capitalist and governmental agencies best placed among various competitors to create the conditions for a stable profitable investment regime. The incipient hegemon’s competitive advantages over rivals (organizational, technological, geographical, etc.) gradually allow its capitalists to become the central actors in and beneficiaries of the most profitable circuits of accumulation. The dynamism of the hegemonic state-capital alliance drives (uneven) growth across the world-system as a whole, meaning that, generally speaking, the interests of all other capitalist actors become increasingly tied to supporting continued processes of hegemonic expansion. This tends to establish periods of relatively stable systemic growth, the material phase, which are eventually progressively undermined by their own contradictions. As returns on productive expansion under the organizational paradigm instituted by the hegemon diminish, capital begins to pull out of these activities and retreat into finance, in search of higher returns. The ensuing phase of financial expansion constitutes a brief belle époque in which the power of the hegemon appears to be resurgent. This proves illusory, however, as the financial expansion, not underpinned by growth in the real economy but in fact predicated upon an undermining of the bases of real growth, tends towards instability and quickly generates crisis. In turn, declining returns to financial capital promote a search for investment opportunities in a rising state-capitalist bloc that possesses the most advantages under the new conjuncture, eventually emerging as the new hegemon and providing the basis for another round of material expansion.

In this way, American hegemony in the early 20th century emerged as a result of positional advantages over rivals such as the UK (the declining hegemon) and Germany. Containing abundant natural resources and isolated from wars in Europe, the US was also home to important organizational revolutions in production and management of capitalist enterprises during this period. By the end of World War II, American hegemony had been cemented and formed the centerpiece of a global Keynesian-developmentalist regime [i] that sustained several decades of stable capitalist expansion. By the 1970s, though, with rising competition from Japan and West Germany, combined with an exhaustion of productivity gains from the Fordist template, the material phase of the US-led cycle began to unravel, prompting a replacement by financialization (and associated neoliberalism) which came to dominate the US and global economy in subsequent years.

Given the financial crisis of 2008 and the relatively sluggish performance of the US economy since, could China now be emerging as the new center of global accumulation? The graph below gives some indication that this could be the case. As can be seen, Chinese demand, propped up by a massive public investment program, was instrumental in helping the global economy through the aftermath of the crisis. Even in more recent years, however, China has been the single largest contributor to world growth. In 2013, for example, China accounted for half of all global economic expansion, while the entire developed world’s contribution amounted to only one fifth of the total.

These figures alone do not of course demonstrate that global Chinese hegemony is imminent. Whether China can form a new center for global accumulation in the long run depends crucially upon the Chinese state-capitalist alliance’s ability to surmount obvious barriers to a path of stable expansion at home and abroad. These are linked to the decline of the current accumulation cycle, most obviously seen in the lack of growth in Northern markets post-2008. [ii] Since the Chinese economic miracle was founded principally upon the production of cheap exports to these markets, their collapse seems to imply a looming impasse for the Chinese economy. The impact of the loss of export markets has been countered by a huge stimulus package, but this reliance on debt-led investment as a source of growth seems unsustainable in the longer term. If Northern markets continue to stagnate, growth in developing world consumption [iii] may offer an alternative opportunity for continuing Chinese development.

Though innovation is often associated with advanced technology, China’s major innovative advantage over its rivals may lie in its firms’ superior ability to produce cheap and appropriate products for the emerging markets of the global South. A study by McKinsey (Atsmon et. al. 2012) estimates that from 2010 to 2025 the size of the global consuming classes—that is, those individuals with a daily income of $10 per day or more—will grow by two billion. Of the projected $26 trillion increase in annual consumption over that period, 70% of the growth will come from the global South. These new consumers will have very different requirements than the middle classes of the North. Most of these individuals will be entering new consumer goods market sectors for the first time, purchasing a first refrigerator or perhaps a first car. With highly constrained incomes, the simple fact of owning such goods—at the cheapest price possible—will be of far greater priority than the differentiation based on branding or quality which is paramount in ‘mature’ markets where producers of the global North retain an edge over their PRC counterparts. Chinese producers do, however, possess the capabilities to produce a wide range of consumer (and capital) goods cheaply and efficiently, and are furthermore likely to have a better idea of the needs of developing world consumers than their competitors in the North.

Cameroonian okada rider

In turn, growing consumption of these goods by emerging consumers and producers may allow for new opportunities within their own economies. Kaplinsky (2013) gives the example of Chinese-built motorcycles in Cameroon (right). Though less reliable than the Japanese alternative, they sell at one third of the cost, which has facilitated their purchase by youths who have used them to become taxi drivers and couriers, known as “okada riders.”

Zotye TT

Chinese expansion built upon this emerging consumption has the potential to develop into a kind of new global Fordism. The Zotye TT (left), China’s cheapest car, is unappealing to most rich world consumers in terms of brand image, features, or safety. Yet the Zotye TT and its counterparts [iv] are nevertheless bringing car ownership within reach of a new tranche of the global population, meeting growing demand which is not effectively addressed by existing forms of capitalist production. Fordism, symbolized by the Model T, sparked decades of expansion by marrying mass consumption among the American and European working classes to new forms of mass production. In the coming decades, a further widening and deepening of the capitalist world-system towards mass consumption on the part of billions in the global South may well present the most promising route for the re-establishment of conditions needed for stable global accumulation, representing what Arrighi might see as a new cycle in the evolution of global capitalism.

Ford Model T


[i] In broad brush strokes this meant Keynesian demand management and Fordist mass consumption in the global North, with state-capitalist industrialization drives in the South.

[ii] The United States has performed somewhat better than Europe or Japan in this regard, helped by low energy prices from the roll-out of fracking processes for the extraction of natural gas. The US has not, however, reverted to average GDP growth levels seen in the 1970s and 1980s and certainly has not approached those seen in the 1950s-70s.

[iii] Fueled, in part, by Chinese demand for commodities from many of these states.

[iv] Which also include offerings from other Southern manufacturers such as the Indian Tata Nano.


Arrighi, G. (1994). The Long Twentieth Century: Money, power, and the origins of our times. Verso.

Atsmon, Y., Child, P., Dobbs, R., Narasimhan, L. (2012, August). “Winning the $30 trillion decathalon: Going for gold in emerging markets”. McKinsey Quarterly. Retrieved from

Economist. (March 22, 2014). “World GDP”. Retrieved from

Kaplinsky, R. (2013). “What contribution can China make to inclusive growth in sub‐Saharan Africa?” Development and Change, 44(6), 1295-1316.

Nick Jepson is a PhD candidate in global political economy at the University of Bristol in the UK. His research examines emerging China-driven structural transformations in the world economy and their implications for the rest of the global South, focusing particularly on natural resource exporting states. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of California Santa Barbara and the University of Madison-Wisconsin and has studied or conducted research in nine different countries on four continents.

Global Era Imaginaries: Myth Today

July 22, 2011

Victor Faessel, UC Santa Barbara

Since the 1950s, a concerted pushback against the narrative of secular modernity has followed post-colonial independence in many countries around the world and was accompanied by a proliferation of nationalist counternarratives grounded in ethnicity, religion, and shared memory. Indigenous traditions, myths, and histories became a rallying point. Yet this recovery often implied the recasting of traditions, sometimes reframing specific myths and mythic figures to assert exclusionary communitarian boundaries. In some cases this reaction was a form of resistance to the secular national state (e.g., political Islam, the Iranian theocratic revolution), in others it reflected tension with social groups seen to compete for scarce political or economic resources or was rooted in underlying animosity toward a near neighbor (e.g., Hindu nationalism). Not seldom was it a compounding of these and other factors, complicated by the legacy of colonial administration of institutions like the census, which fostered non-indigenous categories such as race, class, and property rights.

This recovery and valorization of indigenous knowledge in post-colonial states posed a serious challenge to some of the foundational assumptions of Euro-American ethnography and comparative religious studies. Ostensibly scientific approaches came under fire for supplying ideological constructs that legitimized colonial rule, foremost of which was a dialectical other—the lethargic, darker-skinned “primitive” with his irrational beliefs, childish stories, and non-productive ways. This other served as a foil for the Enlightenment program which itself partly served to justify western domination and economic exploitation. As unquestioned and commonsensical as these prejudices had seemed at the time, this cultural script of the enlightened west has the form of a mythic discourse: a story broadly accepted by its primary audience of savagery overcome by reason, of backwardness transformed into (linear) progress vouchsafed by superior European “civilization” and, more recently, by the “providential” (and therefore exceptional) status of the United States of America as the light of the world.

Economic globalization displays western liberalism’s master narrative newly rationalized and reformatted: globally integrated “free” markets fostering “free” consumer-entrepreneur citizens and rising western-style “standards” of living. Global economic integration speeds the erosion of traditional lifeways in societies everywhere, yet this external pressure is resisted in different ways. Culture is resilient; it can be creative under pressure, can accommodate or integrate non-native ideological constructs and myths; indigenous narratives may be reshaped to concord with emergent needs of resistance and survival, as the cases of indigenous Hawaiian or Christianized Congolese groups demonstrate in different ways (Friedman and Friedman, 2008).

Against this backdrop, a consideration of myth in the contemporary global setting ought to recognize the term’s usefulness for identifying a form of narrative discourse bound up with ethnic, communal, religious, and national identities that are anything but static. Myth should be defined in a manner cognizant of the layered intersections of belief, political and historical consciousness, cultural reproduction, and human agency woven through social formations, and be sensitive to the diverse pressures confronting post-colonial and indigenous societies and subjectivities (deculturation, fragmentation, development and IMF agendas, exposure to global economic cycles). But a capacious definition of myth would also recognize that the current global situation presents multiple “modernities” and nationalisms that, while generating indigenous forms of distortion and erosion, also produce assimilative and creolizing tendencies that impact bodies of narrative tradition including myth, legend, and folklore.

Myth thus defined is clearly distinct from two uses of the word common today that remain bound to its dialectical position in Christian polemics, Enlightenment visions, and colonial projections. Today ‘myth’ is commonly equated with little else but organized deception, false belief, and anachronism—as a kind of ideological critique. A conception of myth that is faithful to its actualities must acknowledge the centrality of imagination and sentiment for individuals and social groups alike, and affirm narrative’s constitutive role where social imagination, sentiments, and agency intersect. Mythic stories typically hold a kind of authoritative status and/or possess explanatory value for a group’s members, be they entire nations, sub-national and ethnic groups, class strata, religious and diasporic communities, or subsets of any of these. Elites often hold up myths as this kind of authority. Myths are usually aligned with tradition and identity, yet they should not be equated solely with religious identity because secular identities and recrudescent or “invented” historical traditions may also ground themselves in myths. As core components of a group’s repository of images and stories, myths help to constitute and express a social or cultural imaginary, and supply discursive substance for ideologies. Myths are often set in a timeless or exemplary past, yet some convey the shape of imagined futures in the form of eschatologies, revolutionary goals, utopias, and dystopias. Both taken for granted and frequently evoked, mythic images and stories are always reinterpreted to meet the challenges of the present. Myths, as implicit appeals to group sentiments in maintaining, reasserting, or reconstituting communal order and identity, may be regarded as a mode of discourse. They count among the significant repertoire of scripts and images around which social groups cohere, but they may also be divisive, and over them members can and do contend. In sum, myths contribute decisively to the habitus, the nomos, and to the discursive and performative activity of cultural reproduction and social change.

It seems reasonable to count mythic stories among the artifacts of imagination that accompany every phase of human movement across global space and time. Implied with the human encounters of migration, trade and exploration is a dialectics of exchange and mutual influence. Cultural forms are thereby transported and transformed. This is entirely consistent with conceptions of the globalizing process that see it as an intermittent but longstanding and non-singular process.

Myths constellate themes, plots, and character types that continuously infuse the universal human activity of storytelling, and so perdure outside of the traditional, community-constituting stories and cosmologies in both high/classical and popular literatures as well as in film, TV, manga, video games, etc. The ongoing work on mythic images and themes is carried forward here, for reception and reinterpretation are not limited to text-literate audiences for whom cultural canons are matters of schooling. Diasporic communities, multi-ethnic families, overseas migration, and of course media stimulate the global flow of peoples, stories and images, and thereby generate sensitivities toward cultural others that intensify myth making, adaptation, and use. Myth remains bound to the dynamism and vitality driving the globalization of culture.

Victor Faessel is Program Director of the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Secretary of the Global Studies Consortium. He is also Managing Editor of the Encyclopedia of Global Studies (Helmut Anheier and Mark Juergensmeyer, eds., forthcoming from Sage Publications) to which he has contributed an essay that is the basis for this adaptation.

Suggested Reading
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. (1983). Verso, 2006.

Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minnesota,

- – -. Fear of Small Numbers. Duke, 2006.

Bottici, Chiara. A Philosophy of Political Myth. Cambridge, 2007.

Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination. 2nd edn. Eerdmans, 1998.

Doniger, Wendy. The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth. Chicago, 1998.

Friedman, Kajsa Ekholm and Jonathan Friedman. Modernities, Class, and the Contradictions of Globalization. The Anthropology of Global Systems. AltaMira/Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

Juergensmeyer, Mark. Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State from Christian Militias to Al-Qaeda. California, 2009.

Lal, Vinay. Empire of Knowledge. Pluto Press, 2002.

Lincoln, Bruce. Theorizing Myth. Chicago, 1999.

Nandy, Ashis. Time Warps: Silent and Evasive Pasts in Indian Politics and Religion. Permanent Black, 2002.

Nederveen Pieterse, Jan. “Representing the Rise of the Rest as Threat. Media and Global Divides.” Global Media and Communication. 2009 (5:2), 221-237.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. Pantheon, 1978.

Steger, Manfred. The Rise of the Global Imaginary. Oxford, 2008.

Taylor, Charles. Modern Social Imaginaries. Duke, 2004.

Politics of Crisis

May 27, 2011

Jan Nederveen Pieterse, UCSB

There is broad agreement that the 2008 crisis was caused by financial speculation, enabled by deregulation, in short by ‘permissive capitalism’.  After crisis then, we would expect that the Keynesian party of regulation and government intervention should win. Instead, in the US the political winners have been the GOP and the Tea party, and in the UK, the Tories. How do we explain this perplexing phenomenon?

The usual account is the electoral pendulum swing going against incumbents (which implies its swinging back again next time). Also often mentioned is the role of media promoting free market policies. Besides, the incumbents, Democrats in the US and Labor in the UK, have been a party to deregulation and to bailouts of the financial sector without strings attached.

Rather, the general climate is one in which deficits trump regulation deficit hawks rule on both sides of the Atlantic. Regulations of the banking sector, the Frank-Dodd bill in the US and the Vickers Report in the UK, have been thin and meager. The bank reforms in the US have produced even bigger banks. Not only has this not solved the problem of too big to fail but it has created an even larger problem, too big to save. In effect, regulation has morphed into consolidation.

In both countries regulation has been crowded out by the deficit and budget deliberations, which is odd because the deficit didn’t cause the crisis. In fact, for all the talk about the deficit there is little discussion of how it has come about. Nor have there been prosecutions or indictments of bankers—quite unlike after the American Savings and Loan scandal in the early 1980s. Also strangely missing is a public outpouring of moral outrage—tens of thousands marching in the streets furious about financial crisis and government indulgence, crisis-prone behavior on a scale comparable to the Iraq war and the BP Gulf oil disaster. Remuneration of CEOs and bankers is largely back to where it was before crisis, with some cosmetic changes.


The common shortcut explanation for these trends is ‘neoliberalism’. However, ‘neoliberalism’ doesn’t account for the actual variety of ideas nor does it explain why neoliberalism is accepted. To account for this perplexing situation I offer two main hypotheses: intellectual deficit and power deficit. According to the first hypothesis, the key problem is the lack of alternative ideas. At first sight the notion of an intellectual deficit is patently untrue. In the major US and UK newspapers during recent years there has been a steady stream of articles and comments by noted economists making the case for continued stimulus, rather than austerity, and for stronger regulation—such as Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, Robert Reich, Martin Wolf, John Kay, and many others. Yet, the argument can’t be entirely dismissed. Part of the problem is what John Kay calls ‘confirmation bias’: ‘the lesson most people have learnt [from the crash] is that they were right all along.’ So yes there were alternative ideas, but their resonance was not strong enough to sway the prevailing pro-market ideology in mainstream media and public discourse. A mere crash does not undo thirty years of free market socialization since Thatcher and Reagan. On the pages of the Wall Street Journal free market economists have continued their zeal even after the crash. Besides, ideas without organizational momentum carrying them fall short of ideologies.

Thus we turn to the second hypothesis, power deficit. That is, there are alternative ideas but the political and public momentum backing them isn’t strong enough and the ideas fall on deaf ears. First, in the US, the political economy of labor, the coalition of Democrats and trade unions, anchored in the industrial Northeast and Midwest, has been steadily eroded by thirty years of deindustrialization. Gone from the public sphere are the Keynesian principles of full employment and deficit spending, viewing trade unions as partners in growth, and Fordist principles of labor productivity and wage growth moving in tandem—not because the ideas have vanished but because the power bloc backing them, in Congress and on main street, has crumbled.

In its stead has come the political economy of services: in finance, insurance, real estate (FIRE), health care, software (Silicon Valley), the cultural industries (Hollywood), retail, education, and the government social sector. The service sector is disparate, ideologically dispersed, unorganized, and many are beneficiaries of deregulation. Wall Street and Silicon Valley are progressive factions of capital that are part of the power base of the Obama administration, that is, progressive in a technological sense. Their main ideological umbrella, if any, is innovation, a techno fix that eschews difficult political and economic questions.

The power shift from manufacturing to services is a general feature of postindustrial society, but there are degrees of postindustrialism. In northwest Europe and Japan offshoring and outsourcing to low-wage countries have generally been balanced by inward investment in technologies and factories, while in the US and UK deindustrialization has been far more drastic.

In the US what industry remains (besides the defense industries) or new industry develops is mostly in the South. Dixie capitalism has gradually taken over from Frost Belt capitalism. Starting in the seventies when industries moved from the northeast they went south. Dixie capitalism and Dixie politics trump Frost Belt capitalism. The Republican Party and the Tea Party reflect different shades of the ethos of the South—low taxes, low services, low wages, no unions. The new Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana represent the politics of extreme capitalism, feeding on resentment: if private sector workers have meager benefits and no collective bargaining, then public sector workers should not have them either. It is a politics of bringing everyone down to the Dixie level. In America this is what decline looks like. Hence the issue is not simply ideology but what Galbraith called countervailing power.

Financialization emerged first as an antidote to deindustrialization, masked its effects and enabled the boom of the ‘roaring nineties,’ but has increasingly become a major destabilizing factor, culminating in the crash of 2008. The problem is not financialization per se but the combination of financialization and deregulation, the problem of the ‘sleeping watchdog’. Moreover, low taxes resonate with the market society ethos of possessive individualism. In the US, under the sign of low taxes, liberty trumps equality. In the UK, the Tories call on the Big Society—which is reminiscent of the elder Bush in the US calling on a ‘thousand points of light’ and Bush junior relying on faith-based organizations—suggesting that voluntarism should take over state welfare functions. The paradox is that it is a call to a society in which, given the retreat of the state, market forces have been unleashed, and the call to service therefore falls on deaf ears. A society governed by consumerism and market values is to respond to a call to social values.


What future trends and options do these conditions portend? Given that major trends are of a structural nature—the growth of postindustrialism, services, financialization—major changes in the next ten to fifteen years are not in the cards. The US and UK will likely undergo gradual decline, mitigated to the degree that they play their cards well. Both rely too much on narrow sectors, especially finance, and anti-government ideology undercuts their capacity for self-correction. Northwest Europe is undergoing milder versions of these trends because industry, regulation and social contracts are stronger and free market ideology has less support. The problem of financialization, its size and lack of regulation, however, is a common factor but on a smaller scale than in US and UK. Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain face different problems, generally GDP growth outstripping productivity growth, weak regulation, and growth borrowed from external financing.

To read the full article, please visit  and look at the “Politics of Crisis” PDF.

Jan Nederveen Pieterse is Mellichamp Professor of Global Studies and Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and specializes in globalization, development studies, and cultural studies. He holds a part-time chair in globalization studies at Maastricht University.

What is Global Studies?

May 6, 2011

nullMark Juergensmeyer

What is global studies? Anxious administrators ask this question whenever a new program or degree is proposed. Is it anything different than simply international, or comparative, or area studies made over and outfitted with a bright new name?

This very question has been discussed by the Global Studies Consortium, an international organization of graduate programs in global studies. Originally proposed at a workshop in Santa Barbara in 2007, the consortium meetings draw representatives from over forty graduate programs in Asia, Europe and North America. They meet each year at such diverse locations as Leipzig, Tokyo, and Shanghai.

At one of their recent meetings, the representatives agreed upon five aspects of their programs that all of them shared in common, and which distinguish global studies from international, area, comparative, or similar fields. The five key defining characteristics of the field are as follows:

Global studies is transnational.  Global studies focus on the analysis of events, activities, ideas, trends, processes and phenomena that appear across national boundaries and cultural regions. The term “cultural regions” is meant to apply to associations of people bound together by a common language, religion, and heritage that are defined within a particular geographical area but may not be demarcated as a nation, or have occurred historically before the concept of nation was applied to states.

Strictly speaking, transnational and global studies are not the same, since an activity that appears beyond national boundaries can be largely within a particular area of the world (Europe, for instance, or the nations along the Pacific Rim), and not necessarily throughout the whole world. On the other hand all global phenomena are by definition transnational, since they occur beyond the limitations of national boundaries or control. In general, the term “international” differs from transnational phenomena since it applies to activities between and among nation-states. In common usage, however, many transnational phenomena are described as international, as in the description of some environmental issues as being international when the phenomena themselves—such as global warming—are transnational (though the responses to them may involve an international collaboration among nations).

Global studies is interdisciplinary.  Since global phenomena are economic, political, social, cultural, religious, ideological, environmental, biological, or involve new technology and means of communication, they are examined from many disciplinary points of view. Scholars involved in global studies are found in all fields of the social sciences (especially sociology, economics, political science, and anthropology) as well as the humanities, including history, literature, religious studies, and the arts. And it involves some areas of science—environmental studies and public health, for instance.

Global studies is both contemporary and historical.  Though the pace and intensity of globalization has increased enormously in the 21st century and the post-Cold War period of the 20th century, transnational activity has historical antecedents. There are moments in history—such as in the ancient Mediterranean world during the Roman and Greek Empires—when there was a great deal of transnational activity and interchange on economic, cultural, and political levels. European colonialism during the 19th and 20th centuries provides another example of a global stratum of culture, education, technology, and economic activity upon which are based many aspects of globalization in the 21st century. Thus to understand fully the contemporary patterns of globalization it is necessary to probe their historical precedents.

Global studies tend to be postcolonial and critical. Although many aspects of contemporary globalization are based on European colonial precedents, most global studies scholars do not accept uncritically the Western-privileged patterns of economic, political and cultural globalization. Some scholars avoid using the term “globalization” to describe their subject of study, since it sometimes is interpreted as implying the promotion of a Western-dominated hegemonic project aimed at spreading the acceptance of laissez-faire liberal economics throughout the world. Other scholars describe their approach as “critical globalization studies,” implying that their examination of globalization is not intended to promote or privilege Western economic models of globalization.

The postcolonial perspective of global studies is one that is viewed from many cultural perspectives. Scholars of global studies acknowledge that the perception of globalization and other global issues, activities, and trends are viewed differently from different parts of the world, and from different socioeconomic locations within it. For that reason scholars of global studies sometimes speak of “many globalizations,” or “multiple perspectives on global studies.”  This position acknowledges that there is no dominant paradigm or perspective in global studies that is valued over others.

Global studies programs aim at global citizenship. Academic programs in global studies often advance an additional criterion for programs in global studies: helping to foster a sense of global citizenship. Leaders in these academic programs aver that they are helping to create “global literacy”—the ability of students to function in an increasingly globalized world—by understanding both the specific aspects of diverse cultures and traditions as well as commonly experienced global trends and patterns. Other leaders of academic programs assert that they are providing training in “global leadership,” giving potential leaders of transnational organizations and movements the understanding and skills that will help them to solve problems and deal with issues on a global scale.

MARK JUERGENSMEYER is a professor of sociology and global studies, and director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Orfalea Center serves as the international secretariat for the Global Studies Consortium. This essay is adapted from an essay on global studies for THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF GLOBAL STUDIES (Helmut Anheier and Mark Juergensmeyer, co-editors; Victor Faessel, managing editor) published by Sage Publications.

“The Nature of the Beast”: The Koran-Burning Controversy as a Media Spectacle in the Age of Globalization

January 31, 2011

Aziz Douai, Ph.D.

Globalization has increasingly subverted the sacrosanct ties between culture and place, and underscored the porous nature of traditional borders associated with the nation state. Global media and the Internet have played an unprecedented role in these de-territorialization processes.  In this context, particularly in the post 9/11 world, what goes on U.S. television matters a great deal not only to American audiences, but to global viewers.  That U.S. television continues to be ignorant of these forces was amply illustrated by its coverage of the Koran-burning controversy in the fall of 2010, and its lack of a rational debate about the place of Islam in American society.  Using Guy Debord’s concept of the “spectacle,” this essay analyzes the messages that the U.S. media’s coverage of the Koran burning threat disseminates to citizens around the world (1994).

The most important of those messages is the fact that the Koran-burning controversy highlighted the ambiguous identity and status of Muslim Americans in the U.S.  As President Barack Obama finessed his position regarding Muslims’ right, but not their wisdom, to build an Islamic Center and mosque two blocks away from New York City’s Ground Zero, Terry Jones, a Florida pastor, grabbed the news headlines with his renewed threat to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11.  The heightened drama reached a crescendo with denunciations of the pastor’s intentions by Obama and members of his administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and General David Petraeus.

News coverage of Jones’ Koran burning threat became a media spectacle, which did not lead to any genuinely fruitful debate about the role of Islam in the U.S.  Clearly, the media circus was instrumental in hyping up this controversy and persisting through the media’s ensuing self-flagellation and critique.  The media circus surrounding the pastor’s Koran-burning threat displays some of the characteristics inherent in media spectacles.   Media spectacle and frenzy tend to become regular inhibitors of democratic deliberation, as the coverage of the run up to the war on Iraq revealed.  Furthermore, media spectacles thrive on self-referential, self-aggrandizing, and faux critiques to preserve television news’ credibility and ratings.

from the Associated Press

Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center at a news conference in Gainesville, Fla., September 8, 2010. John Raoux, Associated Press Photo.

How media spectacles operate leaves no room for rational debate.  On U.S. cable news, the pastor’s threat quickly became a media spectacle, with cameras awaiting the implementation of his incendiary threat.  A day before his ultimatum expired, the pastor announced to the camping media throngs that he would cancel his plan.  Jones claimed that he had reached some agreement with the Imam behind the proposed Islamic Center to move the project even farther from the 9/11 site in exchange, shrewdly connecting a different controversy to his cause.  The press conference immediately became a breaking news event across the three cable news networks: CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.

For foreign audiences, the media’s responsibility question is inescapable in this debacle.  U.S. media’s indulgence of Jones’ tantalizing threat only fed the public spectacle and frenzy, even while promising not to give more airtime to the incendiary pastor.  Fox News Channel [FNC] issued a press release promising not to air any Koran burning footage should the pastor carry through with his on-and-off threat.  Michael Clemente, senior vice president at Fox News, explained: “We do not cover every flag burning that happens in this country. We don’t run every hostage tape.  If we tried to cover everyone who wants us to stick a camera in front of them, we’d run out of cameras pretty fast each day. But this is really about just using some judgment,” (Michael Clemente  qtd. by David Zurawik, 2010). The Associated Press and other news organizations announced similar decisions.

Global viewers’ impressions of the U.S. largely stem from these televised images.  What they see is a media spectacle that gives voice to acrimony and vilification rather than a public dialogue. They also see a nation struggling with how to deal with its Muslim population in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and a controversial “war on terror.” The media-fueled spectacle of paranoia and hysteria about Islam and Muslims are what dominates the pictures in people’s heads.

FNC’s dismissal of the pastor as a “media creation” could not disguise its blatant attempt to connect the controversy to the raging debate over the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero.  Despite its unequivocal press release, FNC’s coverage actually validated the pastor’s claims.  Many of its hosts and guests promoted the treacherous issue of sensitivity that the two controversies supposedly shared.  Fred Barnes, a long time FNC’s contributor and The Weekly Standard’s editor, acquiesced with Sarah Palin’s characterization of both controversies as an “unnecessary provocation,” (Sarah Palin  qtd. by Fred Barnes).

One can speculate that the media’s vaunted outrage at the Florida preacher’s “International Burn a Koran Day” threat was due to the preacher’s nakedly media-courting tactics that engendered his on/off planned bonfire. But one can also argue that in the age of the spectacle, the tabloid nature of TV news does not tolerate uncertainty or ambiguity. Television’s ratings game may verge on complicity.  As a prevalent cultural logic, these media spectacles continue to promote and popularize a negative image of Islam and Muslims.  There is no surprise at a recent Media Tenor analysis’ finding that  the “U.S. TV news agenda still isn’t positive on Islam or its adherents, with a rating that is more than 35% negative in September 2010′s preliminary data alone,” (Media Tenor, 2010).

More significantly, media coverage of the planned Koran burning, like media spectacles in general, did not rise to the occasion of facilitating a national conversation about the status of Islam and Muslims in American society. “Lost in the diversions of entertainment, individuals are becoming less informed and more misinformed by the increasingly tabloidized corporate media,” as Douglas Kellner puts it (2005). A deeper and serious discussion about Islam, however, needs to be had if only to heal the 9/11-seared American psyche.  As geography and borders grow increasingly irrelevant, and unable to stop the beaming and flow of these images abroad, it is these television images that dominate perceptions of the U.S.  globally.


“Islam in the U.S.: Controversies Raise Awareness.” Media Tenor. September 10, 2010.

Clemente, Michael qtd. by David Zurawik. “Fox News Says it will not cover burning of Quran.” Baltimore Sun Critic David Zurawik writes about the business, culture and craziness of television. The Baltimore Sun.

Debord, Guy. 1994. The Society of the Spectacle, transl. D. Nicholson-Smith.  New York: Zone Books.

Kellner, Douglas. 2005. Media Spectacle and the Crisis of Democracy: Terrorism, War, and Election Battles. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Palin, Sarah qtd. by Fred Barnes. “Right wing compares book burning to building a community center.” Media Matters for America.

Aziz Douai, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Communications at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Canada.

“Connectivity” over “Connections”: Networking Governance and Technology Down South

January 27, 2011

Dipankar Sinha

This brief essay seeks to draw attention to certain trends that are taking place in the domain of governance-technology relations in developing societies. The question I pose is whether governance-sourced, human development-based networking in developing societies, such as India, is at all keeping pace with the spectacular development of technology-sourced networks. This very question leads us to another vital question: are developing societies prepared yet for such linkage?

In order to address the questions one has to trace the sources of tension between the imperatives of governance networking and those of technology networks.  Let us have a concrete instance. ‘Globalizing’ India is supposed to be going through a phase of transition and restructuring both in governance and technological spheres. The shrill voice and the excessive frequency in which policymakers simultaneously utter “good governance”, “inclusive technology” and “participatory development” should have been reassuring. But, as I have explained elsewhere in greater details (Sinha, 2005; 2010), there is a fundamental flaw in the policymakers’ perception, which tends to ignore the vital point that technology needs to be in the service of the people, and not the other way round.

The root of the problem lies in overestimating technological networks at the cost of human development— the base of effective governance networking. As a result, technology-induced connectivity is prioritized over human-sourced connections. For example, amidst the repeated promise of ‘access’ to information kiosks by ordinary people, the fundamental question of relevant and appropriate content for end users, which lies at the base of democratization and sustenance of access, is underestimated. There is little evidence— with notable exceptions like the voluntary organization-based Info Villages in Pondicherry, South India, or the corporate-driven e-Choupal in select regions of India— of localization of software, use of local language-based keyboards or the linkage of local knowledge and resources to the kiosks. As a result, most kiosks are largely ineffective, with a pathetic lack of footfalls. Policymakers’ zeal to negotiate the more publicized digital divide overwhelms the need to minimize the knowledge divide— making the whole process a self-defeating venture. Not surprisingly the Info Villages(1) and the e-Choupals(2) effectively use the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in conformity with local resources, knowledge and skills.

In general, developing countries are now reverberating with the slogan of ‘good governance’, along with its key indicators— transparency, accountability and responsiveness. Still, we are left with a complex knot when it comes to the interface of governance and technology. Invoking the ‘networks’ mechanically does not really solve the problem; on the contrary, in such a process the ‘solution’ itself becomes the problem.

The question is, what is ‘network’ and why is it of fundamental importance to policymaking? As Manuel Castells (1996) explains, a network is a set of inter-connected nodes which are necessary for the circulation of money, information, technology, images, goods, services, or people throughout the network. Castells adds that the most central distinction in the organizational logic is to be or not to be— in the network. As he puts it, “Be in the network, and you can share and, over time, increase your chances. Be out of the network, or become switched off, and your chances vanish…” It is true that living in the days of globalization— marked most fundamentally by unforeseen contraction of both space and time— policymakers can no longer take refuge in the argument that developing societies still have sufficient time to adjust to the network-dependent scenario. It is all the more true in a world in which late-starters are contemptuously dismissed as ‘laggards’. The imperative of ‘being in the network’ is now guided by the “do it now” spirit. Then again, such initiatives hang loose without a reasonably good baseline of human development.

Let us assert here that (new) technology, contrary to the perception of policymakers in the developing world, is not neutral. As the saying goes, technology is neutral insofar as no one knows what technology is used for and so far it is never used. The intense political implication of such ‘neutral’ stance is inescapable. As Wajcman warns (2002), the view of technology as an external and autonomous force exerting an influence on society narrows the possibility for democratic engagement— through debates and dissent— with the order of technology. We may add that not just technology, but the twin business of governance and development are ‘non-neutral’ ideas and practices as well. They are supposed to be purposive acts based on a sort of positive bias in favour of the welfare of people.

However, in the growing amnesia of policymakers the idea of human development is lost. This happens despite the fact that in the contemporary discourse of development and governance the notion of ‘capability’ has acquired an important place. Conceptually developed by Amartya Sen (1999) and Martha Nussbaum (2000), capabilities, in broadest possible terms, refer to “what people are effectively able to do and be”. Intertwined with the extremely sensitive and significant issues of justice and equality, the shaping of capabilities, as Sen clearly notes, should be an outcome of public deliberations and reasoning based on the specific context in which it occurs. The point is particularly relevant in the context of developing societies in which the poor and the marginalized are in perpetual deprivation. Technology in general and the ICT in particular have great potential to enhance capabilities, but utilizing the power of technology has to rest on two cardinal points: first, technology must limit itself to play the role of the ‘facilitator’; and second, beyond the exclusive emphasis on ‘design transfer’ policymakers need to stress building the capacity of end-users.

Ironically, the ideas of Sen— whom the Government of India and the governments of several federated states of India,  consult for advice — continue to be ignored, with disastrous implications. When technology-induced networks are hyped at the cost of human development/capability-oriented reforms in governance, ordinary people get trapped, downgraded and wasted. Such a process has substantial political implications as well. The process takes its toll by threatening, minimizing and even ending, the traces of dissent and critique vis-a-vis the effectiveness of network initiatives. In India “ICT”— the ‘backbone’ of networks— is a buzzword, a political rhetoric, a magic wand— which is supposed to do away with the symptoms of underdevelopment that “cannot” be addressed otherwise. In this technocratic order the networks are too sacrosanct to come under critical scrutiny. To reiterate, in dealing with the excessively complicated interface of governance networking and technology networks the base-strategy cannot be a blind promotion of the latter at the cost of the former. Policymakers in the developing countries should keep in mind Tom Bentley’s poignant observation (2003): “Governance would be effective not just when every strategic centre is networked but when networks extend from blue sky of long-term strategy to coal-face of everyday experience”.


  1. Info Village was initiated by M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in 1988. The objective is to provide value-added information for generating livelihood for the families of fishermen and farmers.
  2. e-Choupal, created by the corporate giant ITC, are information kiosks-cum-supply chain, providing local farmers information about agricultural inputs, farm productivity, scientific farming practices, market prices of crops, and also goods and services.
    [Both initiatives have been part of the author’s research projects.]

Bentley, Tom. 2003. “Governance as Learning: The Challenge of Democracy”, URL:

Castells, Manuel. 1996. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Vol. I: The Rise of the Network Society. Cambridge MA. Oxford UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Nussbaum, Martha C. 2000. Women and Human Development: The Capability Approach, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sen, Amartya. 1999. Development as Freedom, New York: Random House.

Sinha, Dipankar. 2005. “On Forgetting History: ICT and Colonization of Politics in Post-colonial India” in Amiya K. Bagchi, Dipankar Sinha and Barnita Bagchi eds., Webs of History: Information, Communication and Technology from the Early to Post-Colonial India, New Delhi: Manohar.

Sinha, Dipankar. 2010. (De)Politicizing Information Technology: Towards an Inclusionary Perspective, Working Paper 19, Department of Media and Communication. London: London School of Economics.  URL:

Wajcman, Judy. 2003. ”Addressing Technological Change: The Challenge to Social Theory”, Current Sociology, Volume 50, Number 3, May.

Dipankar Sinha is a Professor of Political Science at Calcutta University and the Hony Professor at the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata.

The Individual and the Collective: A Discussion of Identity and Individualism

December 11, 2010

Stephanie Persson

The driver appraised me as I climbed into the passenger seat of the cab. “American,” he remarked in his thick Sichuanese, pulling the car into busy traffic. The comment was not so much a question as a statement of fact. “Why, yes I am,” I replied. “But how did you know that?” “Look at you,” he laughed, “of course you are American.” 

It was small exchanges like this that permeated every aspect of my life in Chengdu and led to my fascination with identity. That comment contained many assumptions about identity – both his and mine. With one word he equated ethnicity and nationality, rid me of any possibility for a more complicated existence (dual-nationalism, for one), and labeled me as a cultural other. Every day in China I was faced with my collective identities – not only my nationality, but also my race and my gender – in ways I had never been forced to deal with. Undoubtedly this was largely because of my place as a cultural and national foreigner, but there was something more there which I found intriguing. I wanted to explore the ways in which identity, and specifically personal as opposed to collective identity, was approached and viewed differently within the Chinese context.

Central to each of us and yet ambiguous in its form and composition, identity is perhaps one of the most complex and contradictory concepts studied by social scientists. It exists between a constant pull of opposing forces. It is both singular and plural, real and imagined, individual and collective, defined by sameness and by difference. Perhaps identity’s ambiguity derives from the fact that it does not simply exist, but is instead continually formed and reformed, created and shaped by the discourse of the individual and those around them. Because of the dialectical nature of identity, it is fundamentally both individualistic and pluralistic. It is pluralistic because the individual’s identity is created through discourse and relationships with other individuals and groups (Taylor 1994: 25-35). It is individualistic because no two people will have experienced the same relationships or the same dialogue.  I use both the terms “relationships” and “dialogue” here in a broad sense. These relationships range from our closest family members to acquaintances we hardly know. The ways in which these people perceive and describe us become, in addition to our own concept of self, a broad conversation of competing narratives which attempt to define us. It is through this interaction – this dialogue, if you will – that identity is created.

This concept of identity as a dialectical creation is an extremely modern concept; indeed, scholars such as sociologist Harvie Ferguson have argued that this concept of identity is at the very heart of our concept of “modernity,” (Ferguson 2009: 47-50). Although it was still defined by relationships, medieval society certainly did not see identity as being defined by “dialogue.” Instead, hierarchy and social place defined feudal society, which was one in which “everyone ‘knows their place’, or, better, they are determined by the place they are in,” (Ibid., 50). Our modern concept of identity, in contrast, is recognized as being created both on an individual and a collective level. Furthermore, modern identity is seen as being fluid rather than static. As sociologist and cultural theorist Stuart Hall explains, “We have now to re-conceptualize identity as a process of identification… It is something that happens over time, that is never absolutely stable, that is subject to the play of history and the play of difference,” (Hall 1991: 15).

The Social Nature of Identity and Collectivization
The dialectical nature of identity influences the creation and maintenance of collective social identities as well as individual identity. Philosopher Charles Taylor has described this process as  the “politics of recognition,” (Taylor 1994: 15). He argues that identity is shaped by recognition or its absence; in other words, the way in which an individual is or is not acknowledged. Taylor’s idea of recognition can be applied to both sameness and difference. We recognize that someone has similar qualities to us, or dissimilar ones. Through realizations of sameness and difference, we create social categories and grouping that we use to define who we are. These social categories are also, like individual identity, fundamentally dialectical. What it means to belong to a certain social category, or where the boundaries are for those categories, is created in dialogue. It is tempting to see categories such as ethnicity, gender, or nationality as inflexible or “natural” categories. Indeed states, religions and other social power brokers often put great effort into making these categories seem impenetrable. In truth, however the meaning of these categories is always defined within a society. In his work on nationalism, for example, scholar Benedict Anderson has famously shown the nation-state to be a created – or want he calls “imagined” – community. The nation-state is not a natural truth, but a created political body. Despite this, a sense of nationalism has come to be seen as a primary identity category for most people around the globe. As Anderson explains, “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lies the image of their communion,” (Anderson 1983: 6). This concept can be applied to other identity categories as well. Just as the concept of the nation-state is fluid and dialectical, concepts such as ethnicity and even gender are also socially defined.

It is important that states and individuals are aware of, and continue to investigate, the dialectical and socially created nature of identity.  This is particularly important for those people on the margins of society.  For individuals near the borders of social categories, those attempting to straddle or cross over social boundaries through what may be considered “pluralistic” identities, an understanding of the permeable, flexible nature of these boundaries becomes extremely significant.  Furthermore, it is important to recognize that the dialectical nature of identity means that the identity and collective actions of minority groups are heavily dependent on the view of themselves they see reflected in the majority culture.  When people do not receive “recognition”, in Taylor’s words, or when groups feel some element of their identity is under threat, this has significant impact on their social and individual identities.  An awareness of the social and dialectical nature of identity is therefore critical in a diverse society.

A longer version of this article entitled, “The Individual and the Collective: A Comparison of Identity, Individualism, and Social Categorization in American and Chinese Students” may be found in the Jackson School Journal of International Studies, v1. No. 1, Spring 2010.

Anderson, Benedict. 1983.  Imagined Communities. London: Verso.

Ferguson, Harvie. 2009. Self Identity and Everyday Life. The New Sociology. New York: Routledge.

Hall, Stuart. 1991. “Ethnicity: Identity and Difference,” in Radical America 23 (4): 15.

Taylor, Charles. 1994. Multiculturalism: Examining the politics of recognition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Stephanie Persson is a recent graduate of the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied International Studies with a focus on China.

Re-locating the U.S. Global Identity in the Post-9/11 World

June 18, 2010

Waleed Mahdi

In “The local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity,” Stuart Hall identifies two forms of globes: “an older, corporate, enclosed, increasingly defensive one which has to go back to nationalism and national cultural identity in a highly defensive way, and to try to build barriers around it before it is eroded;” and a “global post-modern” one, “trying to live with, and…overcome, sublate, get hold of, and incorporate difference.” (i) The first globe, a product of modernity, created a globalization that thrived through the European/English colonial project, which wrestled with the question of nationalism in its attempt to infiltrate various geopolitical boundaries and gain access to other nation’s natural resources and cheap, if not free, labor; hence, adopting a homogenous approach that discards cultural variation and renders other nations into mini-English models. 

With the waning of the English/European power and the rising struggle of the ‘marginal’ for independence in the post-World War II, and by the time Soviet Union collapsed leading to the ascendancy of the United States to the global scale as the only supreme power, a new form of globalization has been adopted. Hall locates this globalization in a post-modern globe defined by a loosening process of the ‘nation-state’ and a subsequent weakening of the ‘national cultural identity’, augmented by an accelerated international interdependence. Ignited by the Fordist economics of mass production and consumption, and encouraged by an almost global embrace of the free market system, corporations (and often governments) have sought several ways to maximizing their profit, mainly through searching for cheap labor (relocating, outsourcing, franchising, etc.), and appealing for a global market. Faced with the challenging factor of cultural variation, the new form of globalization has accommodated the paradoxical mechanism of being ‘multi-national’ yet ‘decentralized’; capitalist institutions, consequently, would be less homogenous, and more adaptive to incorporating cultural differences.

As opposed to the English-model globalization, the American-model, according to Hall, “is not attempting to produce…little versions of Americanness,” but is rather seeking “to recognize and absorb those differences within the larger, overarching framework of what is essentially an American conception of the world.” Such a framework can be understood as a U.S. attempt to construct a global identity that markets pluralism as a commodity for both domestic and global consumption. Thus, the early association of globalization with Americanization, which has paradoxically generated both monetary revenues, e.g. Oprahfication, McDonaldization, and Disneyfication, and discursive formations of cultural and political anti-Americanism, would later be shaken as the U.S. embraced and marketed an American global identity. Meanwhile, the 1990’s witnessed a parallel domestic move to construct a global identity through celebrating the U.S. as a multicultural society, and presenting it as the micro-version of the multi-cultural globe. The twenty-first century U.S. identity, it had been speculated, was on its way be ‘global’.

9/11 & U.S. Global Identity
Two days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the editor of the French newspaper Le Monde, Jean-Marie Colombani, published an editorial titled Nous sommes tous Américains (We are all Americans). The title of his editorial for May 14, 2004 asks the question Tous non-Américains? (Are We All Un-American?). The dramatic transformation in Colombani’s editorials has become an iconic citation of the international community’s reaction to the post-9/11 change in the nature of the U.S. global identity. A heightened discourse of nationalism has hyped the terror invoked by the attacks to declare a state of emergency and prohibited criticism that may potentially undermine the nation. The U.S. has been strictly defined in terms of a timeful constructed national landscape that needed to, not only retaliate through waging a war in Afghanistan and in a preventive measure in Iraq – let alone holding suspects indefinitely without charging them and endorsing interrogation torture techniques in the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo facilities – but also alienate Arab/Muslim Americans from this landscape and subject them to racial profiling as a measure to fight ‘homegrown terrorism’. In her reflections on the post-9/11 U.S. state, Judith Butler stresses, “It was my sense in the fall of 2001 that the United States was missing an opportunity to redefine itself as part of a global community when, instead, it heightened nationalist discourse, extended surveillance mechanisms, suspended constitutional rights, and developed forms of explicit and implicit censorship.” (ii) All this has been packaged, as Dana Heller would put it, into a commodity named ‘9/11’ that the United States has managed to sell a re-branded vision of the nation, marketed domestically and globally through the good vs. bad and you are with us or with the terrorists paradigms. (iii)

The post-9/11 transition in the U.S. global identity – from an attempt to utilize its global superpower status as a means to transcend geopolitical boundaries in favor of reaching a global audience to a heightened discourse of bourgeois nationalism that positions the U.S. nation in a dangerous world; and from a celebration of multiculturalism as a part of an imagined American community to a racial exclusion of Arab/Muslim Americans – cannot be located within the second form of globalization that Hall identifies. It rather corresponds with a third form that overlaps the two globes, i.e. the modern and the post-modern. “The global post-modern,” Hall stresses, “is not a unitary regime because it is still in tension within itself with an older, embattled, more corporate, more unitary, more homogenous conception of its own identity.”

The United States current global role cannot, therefore, be simply conceived through a stark contrast with the English colonialist role; it can rather be understood to exhibit a paradoxical lens that depicts the U.S. as a culturally appropriating imperialist project. This paradox serves as a critical tool to understand the complexity of the U.S. post-9/11 global identity, which accounts for the contradiction in the well-reception and organized rejection of its economic, political, and cultural products. Colombani’s equivocal identification with and rejection of Americanness, for instance, resonates with a global embrace and rejection of the ‘9/11’ product. The global mediation of the images reflecting the collapse of the World Twin Towers, the rising number of innocent victims, the horror-stricken families, and the chaotic state of New York City has won the world’s consolidation with Americans and their values of freedom and democracy; yet the global mediation of images mirroring the ramifications of a unilateral nationalist sense of revenge, an emblemic of which has been the released photos of the inhumane torture of Iraqis in ‘Abu Ghraib’, has generated anger and depreciation of what the United States has come to represent.

The problematic contrasting of the two forms of globalization through an emphasis on a post-modern U.S. global identity and a modern English colonial identity is also conducive to theorizing for the triumph of the former and, subsequently, empties the U.S. global identity from its complexity, mostly defined along the interplay between the domestic and the global. In this regard, Hall raises a critical question: “Is globalization nothing but the triumph and closure of history by the West?” His suggestion not to “resolve the question too quickly” and his vision that this is not the ultimate triumph but rather another face of the triumph of the West can be regarded, not only as an early response to Francis Fukuyama’s vision charted in his 1989 essay “The End of History” which celebrates the Western Liberal democracy as the end of humanity’s socio-cultural evolution, but also as a critical observation of the dynamics of the post-modern globe that would fluctuate the U.S. global identity between an extension into universalism and a contraction to nationalism, or, as Hall aptly locates it, between the ‘global’ and the ‘local’.

i. The article was first published in 1991.

ii. See Precarious Life: The Powers of Morning and Violence. Verso, London, 2004

iii. Read Dana Heller’s “Consuming 9/11,” in The Selling of 9/11: How a National Tragedy Became a Commodity, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005: 1-26.

Waleed Mahdi is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Studies at  The University of Minnesota.

Strong Governments Underpin Globalization

May 14, 2010

Howard H. Lentner

The “great recession” has brought to light some of the foundations that underpin globalization, in particular state institutions required for guaranteeing private contracts, regulating businesses, providing money that allows transactions to continue, and propping up systemic arrangements of the economy. In the conventional view of globalization these foundations have been obscured by those who believed that the market was trumping the state. A few writers had understood the critical nature of state power and had foreseen the possibility of such vigorous government action in an emergency as we have witnessed since September 2008. In this view globalization does not pit states against markets; instead, both are essential to the stability of economic processes across the world, but the state is the indispensable component. 

Since the early 1980s in the United States and earlier in Britain and even earlier in New Zealand, governments have adopted neoliberal policies designed to reduce government participation in the economy, weaken regulatory agencies, privatize former government activities, and place great faith in the ability of markets to regulate themselves. These policies and the ideology that underlay them remained in place despite the need for significant governmental intervention to prevent economic disaster in the savings and loan crisis of 1988, the Mexican economic crisis of 1994, and the East Asian economic crisis of 1997. With the onset of the great recession in December 2007 and the financial crisis that made its appearance in September 2008, governments across the world have intervened to prevent the collapse of financial systems, bailing out banks, buying firms, and injecting large amounts of money into their respective national economies in an attempt to halt the hemorrhaging of jobs and to resume growth. In this case, governments have, in a halting and piecemeal fashion, questioned the premise that markets are self-regulating and have been putting forth legislation to build a more effective regulatory regime.

In the United States the president and Congress are promoting consumer protection legislation in the face of substantial resistance by adherents of failed neoliberal ideology and the financial services industry. The takeover of portions of the banking, insurance, and auto industries by the government of the United States included provisions for limiting the compensation of the twenty-five top executives of such companies. Underway are plans to reform bank regulation, and proposals have been made for removing government endorsement of ratings agencies. However, intermingling of elites from government and the sectors to be regulated as well as the dependence of elected officials on the largesse in campaign contributions from the leaders of large economic units has led to the rejection of certain regulatory proposals and to resistance to a comprehensive analysis within the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that might lead to coherent reform. For example, in its new protocols for listing derivative instruments on a public exchange, the Obama administration has provided a loophole for exceptions for private trades. Although it seemed unlikely that the barriers between commercial and investment banking that had been in place since the 1930s until their removal ten years ago would be reenacted, Paul Volcker’s appointment as an advisor in the White House improves the chances that barriers between commercial and investment banking may yet be erected. The administration has intervened within firms to limit the compensation of top executives and to restructure incentives, but almost no attention has been given to a preferable alternative, imposing marginal tax rates on high incomes of perhaps fifty percent on incomes of a million dollars or more up to ninety percent on those over five million dollars. Piecemeal and half-hearted reform will probably do little to change behavior, so that we can expect the same risky business practices that led to the great recession will continue. In time, then, another disorder will emerge that will require another massive intervention by the government. Because the regulatory system will have been tinkered with around the margins, the next crisis will be shaped differently in its particulars. Nevertheless the basic pattern of the government’s stepping in to save the system from the unregulated missteps, fraud, and deliberately risky calculations will ensue.

There is an alternative path to be taken. First, a sharp distinction needs to be drawn between the government, on the one side, and powerful private economic actors in society. The distinction, at base, is an intellectual one, but it can be put into practice only by the government’s assigning specific roles associated with setting rules and performing regulative tasks to itself and leaving business decisions within the constraints set to private firms. Just as the government needs to stay out of commercial decisions, it needs to keep private actors out of regulatory and legislative decisions; this can be done only by eliminating or at least minimizing private financing of election campaigns.

Second, in its regulatory capacity the government must draw sharp lines along several dimensions in the operations of the market. Among the most important is the restoration of the wall between commercial and financial investment banking as was embodied in the Glass-Steagall Act. Another border needs to be erected between the task of rating investments and consulting for the firms being rated. In regard to the ratings agencies, they need to be separated from governmental endorsement.

Third, the government needs to correct flaws in regulatory steps already taken. For example, all derivatives trades should be required to be done through a transparent exchange, so the exceptions for “private trades” needs to be eliminated from the plan put forward by the Obama administration.

Fourth, the government must enact clear, relatively simple rules that have to be followed by firms and other private institutions. For example, a rule that sets minimum leverage standards for broad categories of loans would institutionalize prudence in lending. For example, the government could set a minimum down payment for any housing purchase at twenty percent of the sales price, and it could require that each commercial bank retain cash deposits equivalent to ten percent of its loans and that each investment bank maintain a cash reserve of ten percent of its assets.

The fundamental shift required to advance globalization without the incalculable risks attending unregulated markets, especially in the financial sector, is to drop neoliberal ideology and recognize the essential functions that states perform, including the provision of security and stability in the international system and the effective oversight and enforcement of rules governing an economic system. Business cycles will remain an inherent characteristic of capitalist economies, but they need not embody system-threatening features such as firms that are regarded as “too big to fail,” and they can be smoothed out considerably by prudent and effective monitoring and regulation by competent governments.


John Cassidy 2009. How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Jeffrey Friedman 2009. “A Crisis of Politics, Not Economics: Complexity, Ignorance, and Policy Failure,” in Critical Review 21 (2–3): 127-183.

Howard H. Lentner 2004. Power and Politics in Globalization:  The Indispensable State. New York: Routledge.

Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, Report to Congress, October 21, 2009 _Quarterly_Report_to_Congress.pdf

Richard A. Posner 2009. “Financial Regulatory Reform: The Politics of Denial,” in The Economist’s Voice., November.

Andrew Ross Sorkin 2009. Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System From Crisis — and Themselves. New York: Viking.

Howard H. Lentner is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the City University of New York

Global studies abroad: toward a more integrated and meaningful study abroad experience

May 7, 2010

David Abernathy

Most undergraduate students majoring in global studies will spend some portion of their academic career studying abroad. Indeed, the “study abroad requirement” is seen as an essential component of the global studies degree at many institutions, as it provides students with an opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture and actively engage with the issues and problems they study in the classroom. But does simply including a study abroad component in a global studies major ensure that students will actually immerse and engage?  Given the subject matter of our nascent field, should we be expecting something more, or at least different, for our students when they study abroad? 

I found myself asking those questions as my institution undertook a significant overhaul of its global studies program. Considerable time was spent on the interdisciplinary curriculum, the number of credit hours, the arrangement of thematic tracks and regional concentrations, and the suite of courses that would sit at the core of the major. Study abroad, meanwhile, was barely discussed – it was simply a given. Our revised curriculum places much more emphasis on the processes and flows of globalization than before, incorporating but not privileging area studies at the level of the nation-state while addressing the increasing interconnectivity of society at all scales. We have adopted the metaphors of networks (Castells, 2000) and flows (Appadurai, 1996) as we seek to understand how globalization is changing our world. Yet our mentality toward study abroad programs seems to remain rooted in the paradigm of place. “I want to study in Ecuador,” is an example of the typical response given by a student when asked about the study abroad requirement. We may debate  the “end” or “demise” of the nation-state in our classrooms (Ohmae, 1996; Tanzi, 1998), but when it comes to study abroad the nation-state seems alive and well. Steiner asks of global studies in an earlier issue of this journal, “what is the unit of analysis?” (Steiner, 2007). We know the answer is not the nation-state (or at least not solely), yet too often that is the spatial construct we apply to our thinking on study abroad programs.

It seems appropriate and legitimate to argue that perhaps global studies students and those who teach and advise them should approach the study abroad requirement in a different manner. We should encourage students to focus on process and place together, rather than merely thinking about which international border they hope to cross. If our degree programs require students to pick a thematic track, as so often they do, then we should require our students to take the same approach to study abroad. If global studies is truly a different beast from area studies or international relations, then that difference should be reflected in the study abroad programs chosen by our students.

At my college, we are taking three steps to tailor our study abroad requirement to the specific needs of global studies students (while actively seeking input on other possible approaches). First, we are developing our own short-term study abroad courses that explicitly deal with key issues in contemporary globalization. Our first such course focuses on culture, globalization and development in Ghana, with students traveling in May 2010. Our second course examines the tensions between conservation and globalization in Panama, with study and travel planned for Spring 2011. The development of our own courses allows us to embed the learning objectives of our major directly into these study abroad opportunities.

Where internal study abroad courses are not appropriate or sufficient, we have begun working to improve our advising for external study abroad programs. We are developing a guide to study abroad programs that should be of particular interest and benefit to global studies students based on the subject matter and course of study. Study abroad institutions such as the School for International Training (SIT) and the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) have developed courses that address complex global issues, and we are working to match courses like these to the academic tracks our students choose. We advise students to think about what themes and research topics they are most interested in grappling with while abroad, then look to see which courses provide the closest fit. We do not try to suggest that place is unimportant, of course – we simply want the topics and issues to be given significant weight in the decision-making process.

Finally, we are working to be more self-reflexive about the study abroad process itself, asking students to recognize that the networks and flows that position them as participants in programs across the globe can themselves be the object of study in our field. A colleague of mine once wrote about what students don’t learn abroad (Feinberg, 2002), arguing that it is near impossible for students from the Western world to escape the “imaginary world of globalized, postmodern capitalism” that puts them at the center of the globe, and asking if study abroad programs can provide a sufficient challenge to students’ preconceived notions of how the world works. His argument seems particularly germane for those of us in global studies: how can we justify a study abroad requirement if we don’t actively seek out – or create – those programs that offer such challenges, while in turn providing students with the necessary tools of critical analysis that enable them to question the very act of studying abroad?

We are working to truly integrate the study abroad requirement into our major, rather than simply treat it as a box that students must check on their way to a degree. By teaching students the necessary skills of critical analysis and asking them to apply those skills to their own study abroad experience, by advising students to focus on the themes and content of study abroad programs rather than simply locale, by identifying external study abroad programs that are particularly good fits for our major, and by developing our own internal study abroad courses that explicitly address globalization, we are increasing the likelihood that study abroad both embraces and enhances the learning objectives of our academic major.

Works Cited

Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Castells, Manuel. 2000. The Rise of the Network Society. New edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Feinberg, Benjamin. 2002. “What Students Don’t Learn Abroad.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 3).

Ohmae, Kenichi. 1996. The End of the Nation-State: The Rise of Regional Economies. New York: Free Press.

Steiner, Niklaus. 2007. Global Migration in Global Society. Global-e (May 17).

Tanzi, Vito. 1998. The Demise of the Nation-State? IMF Working Paper. Available at

David Abernathy, PhD, is the chair of the Department of Global Studies at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC.


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