Global multiculturalism: the challenge of heterogeneity.

Author:Cesari, Jocelyne

Globalization--to use the word that now designates the growing openness of national markets to international trade--is often viewed as the last stage in the advent of the market economy, whether one exalts or deplores this development. (1) Although the economic facets of globalization are already widely studied, a scientific approach to its cultural dimensions is only beginning to develop. Unfortunately, the term globalization is often a cliche, a sort of catchall term that evokes, rather than explains, current transformations, with the "McDonaldization" of the world being the most evident aspect of culturar globalization. Globalization designates the multifaceted process of homogenization, which brings cultural practices into conformity with what we think of as "the Western model." This homogenization contains several aspects. The propagation of lifestyles, clothing, music, and consumer products from the West is the most visible and striking. But aside from the McDonald's and Coca-Cola effects, uniformizatio n also progresses under the guise of the "Davos culture," (2) and, even more subtly, through the propagation of a set of norms and values such as human rights, democracy, market economy, and protection of the environment, which are imposed in all corners of the earth. This Davos culture is the direct consequence of economic globalization, and the term refers not only to a style of economic operations but also to a lifestyle. This is why yuppie-style is not just a formula: it corresponds to real modes of consumption, leisure, and family life, giving rise to a whole series of related services. Although the main traits of this "art of living" are Western, its messengers and representatives come from diverse cultures and societies. (3)

"Faculty Club culture" is another aspect of cultural homogenization, brought about by other social groups and defined by the spread of Western values and ideologies. For example, if members of the Davos culture sell state-of-the-art computers to the population of India, the representatives of this club culture--intellectuals, professors, journalists, cultural operators--will promote the virtues of a market economy, protection of the environment, and Western-style feminism more widely.

But homogenization alone does not come close to describing the phenomenon of cultural globalization. Because of the growing gap between economy and culture and culture and politics--a trend that is only beginning to be understood theoretically--it is no longer possible to think of globalization chiefly as the growth of a unique culture. The coherent and policed images of modernity projected by the West are increasingly challenged and contested by alternative cultural forms. This is why we are witnessing a proliferation of political crises linked with clashes of values, norms, and images. But if the conflict of values is omnipresent, it is still reductive to consider these alternative cultural forms as antimodern, as exclusively reactionary and in tension with the West. (4)

To understand the cultural dimension of globalization, we must situate the question of culture in the context of sociological theory, particularly with regard to the relationships between culture and social structure. (5) The globalization question has historically been linked to the Marxist and neo-Marxist debate over capitalist development. (6) Since classical sociology in general adopted a national and statecentric approach, sociologists are now faced with the new challenge of producing work that integrates the global dimension. (7) In this context, the nonreified approaches to society in the works of Norbert Elias and Georg Simmel offer a heuristic path in that they emphasize social processes and modes of socialization. In these conditions, globalization is no longer viewed in terms of all or nothing: it is neither a complete disaggregation of existing social systems nor a complete integration of social systems into one single form, homogeneous and coherent. In this framework, the individual, not the nat ion-state, occupies a central place in the spread of heterogeneity at the international level. (8) Still, the international scene is not split between, on one side, the finite, codified, and ritualized world of the state and, on the other, the polycentric and multifaceted world of nonstate actors. (9) It is essential to recognize that the action of players at the international level is no longer defined by their sovereignty or their legal privileges but instead by the nature of the relations they have forged internationally. This is why authority and sovereignty lie increasingly in the capacity to influence or control resources, people, and challenges outside national territories. (10)

This complex dynamic involves a triple movement of differentiation, relativization, and socialization at the global level. Intensive differentiation of societies may no longer be considered exclusively from within the confines of enclosed nations. Long associated with social and economic diversification of national societies, differentiation is today linked more with ethnicity and multiculturalism in the international realm. As has been demonstrated over the last decade by turmoil in Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, and Afghanistan, interethnic conflicts are now considered a dominant force in international politics. The Simmelian question of the stranger must be considered in a new light: now even one's neighbor may be a "stranger" to whom one is not linked by any form of consideration or civility. The classical Hobbesian problem of order becomes a global problem.

Relativization is related to reflexivity, a concept used by Anthony Giddens to describe the institutionalization of doubt as a touchstone of modernity under globalization. (11) The weakening of faith in institutions is a commonplace in the sociological literature on modernity and postmodernity. More rare are those who, following Roland Robertson, emphasize the global aspect of this doubt. The challenge is to know whether this infinite opening of possibilities in the areas of faith and values carries with it a risk of closure--or, in other words, of fundamentalism. (12) Thus it seems that the necessary corollary of relativization and of generalized doubt is the exacerbation of intolerant attitudes. It is because of the increasingly broad choice among religious and moral possibilities that the fundamentalist reaction is also more and more intense.

Confronting such fluidity of identifications and allegiances, we face the question of the institutional framework of citizenship and the forms of socialization. Although the weakening of the nation-state as a central and exclusive form of international life is now largely accepted and has been the subject of numerous books and articles, the same is not true of the analysis of political actors operating on the global level. What do we know about the arrangements among local, national, and international loyalties? May they be combined? Or are they constantly in tension?

Three questions summarize the sociological complexity connected with the increasing heterogeneity of the international arena:

  1. Is a society organized on the basis of political and cultural allegiances still possible in the context of globalized multiculturalism?

  2. Is stability of individual self-identity still possible when permanent reflexivity is the consequence of global relativization?

  3. What are the roles of individual responsibility and engagement in a global society?

The merchants, immigrants, peddlers, entrepreneurs, and religious actors who circulate between different countries present the double characteristic of being at the same time "transnational" and "indigenous"--in other words, they reflect the heterogeneity of the international scene. Every day, anonymously, they deploy forms of action that draw on cultural resources that are not the same as those of the Davos culture. But they are no less effective. Because of the fluidity and polymorphous character of transnational phenomena, these actors form part of the "hidden face" of globalization, one more difficult to investigate than the world of institutions.

Research in which I have participated on economic networks between Europe and the Maghreb was heavily influenced by the orientations defined by the...

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