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Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.

Modernity at Large summary

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

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

Minnesota P, 1996.

Implicit in this book is a theory of rupture that takes media and migration as its two major, and interconnected, diacritics and explores their joint effect on the work of the imagination as constitutive feature of modern subjectivity.  The first step in this argument is that electronic media decisively change the wider field of mass media and other traditional media.  This is not a monocausal fetishization of the electronic.  Such media transform the field o fmass mediation because they offer new resources and new disciplines for the construction of imagined selves and imagined worlds.  This is a relational argument.  Electronic media mark and reconstitute a much wider field, in which print mediation and other forms of oral, visual, and auditory mediation might continue to be important.  Through such effects as the telescoping of news into audio-video bytes, through the tension between the public spaces of cinema and the more exclusive spaces of video watching, through the immediacy of their absorption into public discourse, and through their tendency to be associated with glamour, cosmopolitanism, and the new, electronic media (whether associated with the news, politics, family life, or spectacular entertainment) tend to interrogate, subvert, and transform other contextual literacies.  In the chapters that follow, I track some ways in which electronic mediation transforms preexisting worlds of communication and conduct.  3

As with mediation, so with motion.  The story of mass migrations (voluntary and forced) is hardly a new feature of human history.  But when it is juxtaposed with the rapid flow of mass-mediated images, scripts, and sensations, we have a new order of instability in the production of modern subjectivities.  As Turkish guest workers in Germany watch Turkish films in their German flats, as Koreans in Philadelphia watch the 1988 Olympics in Seoul through satellite feeds from Korea, and as Pakistani cabdrivers in Chicago listen to cassettes of sermons recorded in mosques in Pakistan or

Iran, we see moving images meet deterritorialized viewers.  These create diasporic public spheres, phenomena that confound theories that depend on the continued salience of the nation-state as the key arbiter of important social changes.   4

In the chapters that follow, I show that the work of the imagination, viewed in this context, is neither purely emancipatory nor entirely disciplined but is a space of contestation in which individuals and groups seek to annex the global into their own practices of the modern.  4

There is growing evidence that the consumption of the mass media throughout the world often provokes resistance, irony, selectivity, and, in general, agency. Terrorists modeling themselves on Rambo-like figures (who have themselves generated a host of non-Western counterparts); houswives reading romances and soap operas as part of their efforts to construct their own lives; Muslim family gatherings listening to speeches by Islamic leaders on cassette tapes; domestic servants in South Inda taking packaged tours to Kashmir; these are all examples of the active way in which media are appropriated by people throughtout the world.  T-shirts, billboards, and graffiti as well as rap music, street dancing, and slum housing all show that the images of the media are quickly moved into local repertoires of irony, anger, humor, and resistance.  7

This theory of a break—or rupture—with its strong emphasis on electronic mediation and mas migration, is necessarily a theory of the recent past (or the extended present) because it is only in the past two decades or so that media and migration have become so massively globalized, that is to say, active across large and irregular transnational terrains.  Why do I consider this theory to be anything more than an update of older social theories of the ruptures of modernization?  First, mine is not a teleological theory, with a recipe for how modernization will universally yield rationality, punctuality, democracy, the free market, and a higher gross national product.  Second, the pivot of my theory is not any large-scale project of social engineering (whether organized by states, inernational agencies, or other technocratic elites) but is the everyday cultural practice through which the work of the imagination is transformed.  Third, my approach leaves entirely open the question fo where the experiments with modenrity that electronic mediation enables might lead in terms of nationalism, violence, and social justice.  Put another way, I am more deeply ambivalent about prognosis than any variant of classical modernization theory of which I am aware.  9

The megarhetoric of developmental modernization (economic growth, high technology, agribusiness, schooling, militarization) in many countries is still with us.  But it is often punctuated, interrogated, and domesticated by the micronarratives of film, television, music, and other expressive forms, which allow modernity to be rewritten more as vernacular globalization and less as a concession to large-scale national and international policies.  10

In these movements, some of which are repressive and violent while others are democratic and peaceful, we can see that electronic mass mediation and transnational mobilization have broken the monopoly of autonomous nation-states over the project of modernization.  10

We rarely encounter the word culturalism by itself: it is usually hitched as a noun to certain prefixes like bi, mulit, and inter, to name the most prominent.  But it may be useful to begin to use culturalism to designate a feature of movements involving identities consciously in the making.  These movements, whether in the

United States or elsewhere, are usually directed at modern nation-states, which distribute various entitlements, sometiems including life and death, in accordance with classifications and policies regarding group identity.  Throughout the world, faced with the activities of states that are concerned with encompassing their ethnic diversities into fixed and closed sets of cultural categories to which individuals are often assigned forcibly, many groups are consciously mobilizing themselves according to identitarian criteria.  Culturalism, put simply, is identity politics mobilized at the level of the nation-state.  15

Of course, no critique that is so sweeping and so sudden could be entirely fair, and the odd mix of its critics suggests that area-studies scholarship might be taking the rap for a wider failure in the

U.S. academy to deliver a broader and more prescient picture of the world after 1989.  17

I hasten to plead that

India—in this book—is not to be read as a mere case, example, or instance of something larger than itself.  It is, rather a site for the examination of how locality emerges ina  globalizing world of how colonial processes underwrite contemporary politics, of how history and genealogy inflect one another, and how global facts take local form.  18

Given the frequency with which Eustern Europe is used to show that tribalism is deeply human, that other people’s nationalism is tribalism writ large, and that territorial sovereignty is still the major goal of many large ethnic groups, let me propose an alternative interpretation.  In my judgment, Eastern Europe has been singularly distorted in popular arguments about nationalism in the press and in the academy in the

United States.  Rather than being the modal instance of the complexities of all contemporary ethnonationalisms, Eastern Europe, and its Serbian face in particular, has been used as a demonstration of the continued vigor of nationalisms in which land, language, religion, history, and blood are congruent, a textbook case of what nationalism is all about.  Of course, what is fascinating about Eastern Europe is that some of its own right-wing ideologues have convinced the liberal Western press that nationalism is a politics of primordia, whereas the real question is how it has been made to appear that way.  This certainly makes EasternEurope a fascinating and urgent case from many points of view, including the fact that we need to be skeptical when experts claim to have encountered ideal types in actual cases.

In most cases of counternationalism, secession, supranationalism, or ethnic revival on a large scale, the common thread is self-determination rather than territorial sovereignty as such.  Even in those cases where territory seems to be a fundamental issue, such as in

Palestine, it could be argued that debates about land and territory are in fact functional spin-offs of arguments that are substantially about power, justice, and self-determination.”  21

I propose that an elementary framework for exploring such disjunctures is to look at the relationship among five dimensions of global cultural flows that can be termed (a) ethnoscapes, (b) mediascapes, (c)technoscapes (d) financescapes and (e)  ideoscapes. 33

Deterritorialization, in general, is one of the central forces of the modern world because it brings laboring populations into the lower-class sectors and spaces of relatively wealthy societies, while sometimes creating exaggerated and intensified senses of criticism or attachment to politics in the home  37

The West Bank, Namimbia, and

Eritrea are other theaters for the enactment of the bloody negotiation between existing nation-states and various deterritorialized groupings.  38

The worldwide spread of the AK-47 and the Uzi, in films in corporate and state security, in terror, and in police and military activity, is a reminder that apparently simple technical uniformities often concel an increasingly complex set of loops, linking images of violence to aspirations for community in some imagined world.  41

To the extent that various kinds of free-trade zones have become the models for production at large, especially of high-tech commodities, production has itself become a fetish, obscuring not social relations as such but the relations of production, which are increasingly transnational.  The locality (both in the sense of the local factory or site of production and in the extended sense of the nation-state) becomes a fetish that disguises the globally dispersed forces that actually drive the production process.  42

Such commodities transform consumer taste in these cities.  They often end up smuggled through air- and seaports and peddled in the gray markets of

Bombay’s streeets.  In these gray markets (a coinage that allows me to capture the quasi-legal characteristic of such settings), some members of Bombay’s middle classes and its lumpen proletariat can buy goods, ranging from cartons of Marlboro cigarettes to Old Spice shaving cream and tapes of Madonna.  Similar gray routes, often subsidized by moonlighting sailors, diplomats, and airline stewardesses, who get to move in and out of the country regularly, keep the gray markets ofBombay,Madras, andCalcutta filled with goods not only from the West, but also from the Middle East, Hong Kong, and Singapore.  It is also such professional transients who are increasingly implicated in the transnational spread of disease, not the least of which is AIDS. 50

The subject matter of cultural studies could roughly be taken as the relationship between the word and the world.  I understand these two terms in their widest sense, so that word can encompass all forms of textualized expression and world can mean anything from the means of production and the organization of life-worlds to the globalized relations of cultural reproduction discussed here.    51

Cultural studies conceived this way could be the basis for a cosmopolitan (global? Macro? Translocal?) ethnography.  To translate the tension between the word and the world into a productive ethnographic strategy requires a new understanding of the deterritorialized wourld that many persons inhabit and the possible lives that many persons are today able to envision..  The terms of the negotiation between imagined lives and deterritorialized worlds are complex, and they surely cannot be captured by the localizing strategies of traditional ethnography alone.  What a new style of ethnography can do is to captrue the impact of deterritorialization on the imaginative resources of lived, local experiences.  Put another way, the task of ethnography now becomes the unraveling of a conundrum: what is the nature of locality as a lived experience in a globalized, deterritorialized world?  51 – 52

More consequential to our purposes is the fact that the imagination has now acquired a singular new power in social life.  The imagination—expressed in dreams, songs, fantasies, myths, and stories—has always been part of the repertoire of every society, in some culturally organized way.  But there is a peculiar new force to the imagination in social life today.  More persons n more parts of the world consider a wider set of possibile lives than they ever did before.  One important source  of this change is the mass media, which present a rich, ever-changing store of possible lives, some of which enter the lived imaginations of ordinary people more successfully than others.  Important also are contacts with, news of, and rumors about others in one’s social neighborhood who have become inhabitants of these faraway worlds.  The importance of media is not so much as direct sources of new images and scenarioes for life possibilities but as semiotic diacritics of great power, which also inflect social contact with the metropolitan world facilitated by other channels.  53

Instead, what is implied is that even the meanest and most hopeless of lives, the most brutal and dehumanizing of circumstances, the harshest of lived inequalities are now open to the play of the imagination.  Prisoners of conscience, child laborers, women who toil in the fields and factories of the world, and others whose lot is harsh no longer see their lives as mere outcomes of the givenness of things, but often as the ironic compromise between what they could imagine and what social life will permit.  Thus, the biographeis of ordinary people are constructions (or fabrications) in which the imagination plays an important role.  Nor is this role a simple matter of escape (holding steady the conventions that govern the rest of social life), for in the grinding of gears between unfolding lives and their imagined counterparts a vareity of imagined communities (Anderson 1983) is formed, communities that generate new kinds of politics, new kinds of collective expression, and new needs for social discipline and surveillance on the part of elites.  54

Rather, these forms of mass advertising teach consumers to miss things they have never lost (Halbwachs 1980).  That is, they create experiences of duration, passage, and loss that rewrite the lived experiences of losses that never took place, these advertisements create what might be called “imagined nostalgia,” nostalgia for things that never were.  This imagined nostalgia thus inverts the temporal logic of fantasy (which tutors the subject to imagine what could or might happen) and creates much deeper wants than simple envy, imitation, or greed could by themselves invite.  77

Look up fredric jamesons nostalgi for the present…a

Rather than expecting the consumer to supply memories while the merchandiser supplies the lubricant of nostalgia, now the viewer need only bring the faculty of nostalgia to an image that will supply the memory of a loss he or she ahs never suffered.  This relationship might be called armchair nostalgia, nostalgia without lived experience or collective historical memory.  One methodological issue here is interpretive: when we consider those images to which modern consumers respond, we need to distinguish different textures of temporality from one another.  We need to discriminate between the force of nostalgia in its primary form and the ersatz nostalgia on which mass merchandising increasingly draws and to attend to how these two might relate in the consumption patterns of different groups.  The other methodological issue  is simply a matter of paying attention to the paradoxical regularity with which patina and fashion in societies of mass consumption feed and reinforce one another.  Mass merchandising techniques not only construct time, as was suggested earlier, but also influence periodization as a mass experience in contemporary societies.  78

The valorization of ephemerality expresses itself at a variety of social and cultural levels: the short shelf life of products and (83) lifestyles, the speed of fashion change, the velocity of expenditure, the polyrhythms of credit, acquisition, and gift; the transience of television-product images; the aura of periodization that hangs over both products and lifestyles in the imagery of mass media.  The much-vaunted feature of modern consumption—namely, the search for novelty—is only a symptom of a deeper discipline of consumption in which desire is organized around the aesthetic of ephemerality.  84

Hard cultural forms are those that come with a set of links between value, meaning, and embodied practice that are difficult to break and hard to transform.  Soft cultural forms, by contrast, are those that permit relatively easy separation of embodied performance from meaning and value, and relatively successful transformation at each level.  90

The great irony in much of this work is that it shows beyond a doubt that very often the creation of primordial sentiments, far from being an obstacle to the modernizing state, is close to the center of the project of the modern nation-state.  Thus, many racial, religious, and cultural fundamentalisms are deliberately fostered by various nation-states, or parties within them, in their efforts to suppress internal dissent, to construct homogenous subjects of the state, and to maximize the surveillance and control of the diverse populations under their control.  In these contexts, modern nation-states often draw on classificatory and disciplinary apparatuses that they inherited from colonial rulers and that in the postcolonial context have substantial inflammatory effects.  146

Culturalism suggests something more than either ethnicity or culture, both fo which terms partake of the sense of the natural, the unconscious, and the tacit in group identity.  When identitiesa re produced in a field of classification, mass mediation, mobilization and entitlement dominated by politics at the level of the nation-sate, however, they take cultural differences as their conscious object.  These movements can take a variety of forms: they can be directed primarily toward self-experession, autonomy, and efforts at cultural survival, or they can be principally negative in form, characterized largely by hate, racism, and the desire to dominate or eliminate other groups.  This is a key distinction because culturalist movements for autonomy and dignity involving long-dominated groups (such as African-Americans in the United States and Dalits in

India) are often tendentiously tarred with the same brush as those they oppose, as being somehow racist or antidemocratic.

Although modern ethnicity is in this sense culturalist and intimately linked to the practices of the nation-state, it is also worth noting that an important group of culturalist movemetns is today transnational, given that many mobilized national ethnicities, because of international migration, operate beyond the confines of a single nation-state.  These transnational culturalist movements are intimately connected with what I refer to as diasporic public spheres.  147

Rosenau’s main messages is that structure and process in today’s polities are artifacts of the turbulent interplay of these two bifurcated systems, each of which affects the others in multiple ways, at multiple levels, and in ways that make events enormously hard to predict.  To account for event structures in the multcentric world he describes, Rosenau suggests that we replace the idea of events with the image of “cascades,” action sequences in the multicentric world that “gather momentum, stall, reverse course, and resume anew as their repercussions spread among whole systems and subsystems” (299).  150

Focalization and transvaluation (tambiah)  150

Talking about group violence, about the rage of neighbors against one another…”at heart, this sense of betrayal is about mistaken identity in a world where the stakes associated with these identities have become enormously high.  The rage that such betrayal seems to inspire can of course be extended to masses of persons who may not have been intimates, and thus it can and does become increasingly mechanical and impersonal, but I would propose that it remains animated by a perceived violation of the sense of knowing who the Other was and of rage about who they really turn out to be.  This sense of treachery, of betrayal, and thus of violated trust, rage, and hatred has everything to do with a world inw hich large-scale identities forcibly enter the local imagination and become dominant voice-overs in the traffic of ordinary life.  The primary literature closest to the most brutal episodes of contemporary ethnic violence is shot through with the language of the imposter, the secret agent, and the counterfeit person.  This discourse brings together uncertainty about categories and intimacy among persons—the key feature of the new violence. 154-5

Not all culturalist movements lead to violence between ethnic groups but culturalism—insofar as it involves identities mobilized at the level of the nation-state—has high potential for violence, especially in an era when the cultural space of the nation-state is subject to the externalities of migration and mass media.  Such externalities would not necessarily increase all nation-states in principle and most nation-states in practice.  This is the contradiction between the idea that each nation-sate can truly represent only one ethnos and the reality that all nation-states historically involve the amalgamation of many identities.  Even where long-standing identities have been forgotten or buried, the combination of migration and mass mediation assures their reconstruction on a new scale and at larger levels.  Incidentally, this is why the politics of remembering and forgetting (and thus of history and historiography) is so central to the ethnicist battles tied up with nationalism (van der Veer 1994).  Culturalist movements among minorities and historically dominated groups tend to enter into a conscious dialogue with the culturalisms of numerical majorities.  As these culturalisms compete for a piece of the nation (and of the resources of the state), they inevitably enter into the space of potential violence.

This proposal differs fundamentally from the primordialist perspective.  It does not regard a substratum of ethnic sentiment as the bedrock of the explanation of ethnic explosions.  Rather, it suggests that ethnic structures of feeling are themselves complex products of the local imagination (mediating a bewildering variety of global cascades as they move through the locality).  Episodes of ethnic violence may thus be regarded as implosive in two senses: in the structural sense, they represent the folding into local politics of pressures and ripples from increasingly wider political arenas; and in the historical sense, the local political imagination is increasingly subject to the flow of large events (cascades) over time, events that influence the interpretation of mundane occurrences and gradually create a repertoire of adversarial ethnic sentiments.  These can seem primordial at first sight but are surely the product of longer-term processes of action, communication, interpretation, and comment.  Once these events occur, however, it is far easier to see their explosive dimensions, as they spread outward, inflaming other sectors and drawing other issues into the vortex of ethnic fury.  But this explosive dimension, powered by (and empowering) the processes of focalization and transvaluation, should not blind (156) us to its initial conditions.  These conditions are better accounted for in terms of the idea of implosion proposed in this chapter than by the many versions of the primordialist perspective that satisfy our thirst for final, and ahistorical, explanations, especially of apparently irrational behavior.  156 – 7

Where soil an dplace were once the key to the linkage of territorial affiliation with state monopoly as the means of violence, key identities and identifications now only partially revolve around the realities and images of place.  161

The nation-state relies for its legitimacy on the intensity of its meaningful presence in a continuous body of bounded territory.  It wroks by policing its borders, producing its people (Balibar 1991), constructing its citizens, defining its capitals, monuments, cities, waters, and soils, and by constructing its locales of memory and commemoration, such as graveyards and cenotaphs, mausoleums and museums.  The nation-state conducts throughout its territories the bizarrely contradictory project of creating a flat, contiguous, and homogeneous space of nationness and siumltaneously a set of places and spaces (prisons, barracks, airports, radio stations, secretarials, parks, marching grounds, processional routes) calculated to create the internal distinctions and dividions necessary for state ceremony, surveillance, discipline, and mobilization.  These latter are also the spaces and places that create and perpetuate the distinctions between rulers and ruled, criminals and officials, crowds and leaders, actors and observers.  189.

The policies of nation-states, particularly toward populations regarded as potentially subversive, create a perpetual motion machine, where refugees from one nation move to another, creating new instabilities there that cause further social unrest and thus further social exits.  191

The ethnography of these tourist locations is just beginning to be written in detail, but what little we do know suggests that many such locations create complex conditions for the production and reproduction of locality, in which ties of marriage, work, business, and leisure weave together various circulating populations with kinds of locals to create neighborhoods that belong in one sense to particular nation-states, but that are from another point of view what we might call translocalities. 192

In the conditions of ethnic unrest and urban warfare that characterize cities such as Belfast and Los Angeles, Ahmedabad and Sarajevo, Mogadishu and

Johannesburg, urban zones are becoming armed camps, driven wholly by implosive forces (chap. 7) that fold into neighborhoods the most violent and problematic repercussions of wider rigional, national, and global processes.  These are, of course, many important differences between these cities, their histories, their populations, and their cultural politics.  Yet together they represent a new phase in the life of cities, where the concentration of ethnic populations, the availability of heavy weaponry,a nd the crowded conditions of civic life create futurist forms fo warfare (Reminiscent of films like Road Warrior, Blade Runner, and many others), and where a general desolation of the national and global landscape has transposed many bizarre racial, religious, and linguistic enmities into scenarios of unrelieved urban terror.  193


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This entry was posted on December 26, 2014 by in 【Social Theory】 and tagged , .
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