Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Trans-African Identity: Cultural Globalization and the Role of the Symbolic-Aesthetic Dimension in the Present Identity Construction Process

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Trans-African Identity: Cultural Globalization and the Role of the Symbolic-Aesthetic Dimension in the Present Identity Construction Process

Article excerpt

The scholarly debate about cultural globalization

Globalization can be defined as the multidimensional set of processes by which a world-system (Wallerstein, 1992), working through a highly complex world network of relations, is coming into being, enacted by a myriad of transnational agents. It is a multidimensional phenomenon that involves many processes at many levels. Thus, we can talk of economic, ecological, political, cultural or even "biographical" (millions of individuals living transnational lives) driving forces in globalization, all interlinked in a systemic loop in which the logics of each dimension are interdependent of the rest (Wallerstein, 1992; Beck, 1999; Woods, 2000; Nederveen Pierterse, 2009).

This systemic approach of social processes and structures is, of course, nothing new in sociology or anthropology. All social systems work in this interdependent manner and the world- system couldn't simply be an exception. In this paper we will focus on the cultural dimension of globalization, dimension that must be dealt with as an inseparable part of the world-system but also as having a certain degree of independence of its own. There are authors, writing from the fields of anthropology, sociology and cultural studies (Giddens, 1990; Bauman, 1995; Robertson, 1995; Beck, 1999) that go some steps further in this direction, affirming the central position of culture in the present process of globalization. For authors like Giddens the common denominator of globalization, above all its different dimensions, genuinely lies, as a matter of fact, in the cultural realm: in the demise of a whole way of life, to be precise--one that so far kept people and societies inside rigidly defined social compartments- and the birth of a new one, characterized by the breaking up of socio-cultural frontiers: a kind of new social life that forces people to adapt, "overcoming all kinds of separations (within the apparently separated worlds of the national States, religions, regions and continents)" (Giddens, 1990, p. 23). Undoubtedly, this is nothing but a process of the deepest cultural consequences; and of academic consequences, as well. The issue of cultural globalization has raised a considerate deal of controversy among social scientists (Nederveen Pieterse, 2009), the mayor point of disagreement lying on the discussion about the universalizing trends of culture dynamics. Two major positions have emerged in this regard.

The first position of this debate is the reductionist and "westernizing" perspective of globalization which, not much defended by scholars nowadays, seems to have become a sort of "folk knowledge" by means of the mass media. This view links straightforwardly globalization with a progressive and steady increasing of universalization (equals westernization) in the ways of living, value frames and identities around the world (Inkles, 1975; Luhman, 1982; Giddens, 1990; Waters, 1995). Nowadays almost no social scientist could accept, at least not without reviewing it carefully, this theoretical perspective.

The second position rejects this unilineal XIXth century revisited evolutionism, substituting it with a multipolar relativist insight that sees globalization as a cultural hybridization process at a world scale (Robertson 1995; Bauman 1998; Tomlison 1999; Beck 1999; Nederveen Pieterse 2009). Ulrich Beck, for instance, denies the idea of globalization as a process implying the appearance of "any national mega-society containing and encompassing all existing national societies" (Beck, 1999, p. 31) but regards it, rather, as the building of a "world horizon characterized by multiplicity, polycentrism, heterogeneity, and the lack of integration" (Beck, 1999, p.31), something only existing as a process, as communication, as enactment.

Indeed, examples of cultural globalization processes taking place among non-Western societies are progressively multiplying as the once peripheral actors enter the league of the "emergent" countries. …

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