I consider the social science study of syncretism to be crucially about the
various discourses that seek to control the definition of syncretism.
[C]reolisation, métissage, mestizaje, and hybridity… are… rather
unsatisfactory ways of naming the processes of cultural mutation and restless
(dis)continuity that exceed racial discourse and avoid capture by its agents.
Speaking with virtually mindless pleasure of transnational cultural hybridity,
and of politics of contingency, amounts, in effect, to endorsing the cultural
claims of transnational capital itself.
CONTEMPORARY WRITING on globalization and culture suggests the demise of the modern notion of a universal culture, in both its utopian and dystopian varieties. Both the French Enlightenment vision of a universal civilization predicated on human rights, scientific rationalism, and material progress (the utopian version) and the Romantic German notion of an authentic national culture threatened by the spread of soulless global forms (the dystopian variant) are outdated. Taking their place is a growing consensus in the social and human sciences that global culture is hybrid, mixing heterogeneous elements into recombinant forms. This position is more akin to the metaphor of polyglot ancient Babel than to the civilisation of French rationalism or the Kultur of German romanticism. It is skeptical of claims that foreign influence eradicates local traditions, and at the same time it is ambivalent toward the notion of local resilience. Its call for “openness” opposes notions of “delinking” originated by Egyptian political economist Samir Amin and taken up by Dutch international communication scholar Cees Hamelink (1983), who sees delinking as the only way for nations to avoid “cultural synchronization” (p. 22). In contrast, anthropologists have argued, at least since U.S. anthropologists Marshall Sahlins and Clifford Geertz, against a direct correspondence between economics and culture.1