Globalization and Identity | Identity (Social Science) | Globalization

Globalization and Identity: Trends and Contradictions This paper aims to present the close interconnectedness of the issues

of identity and globalization and the uneven and contradictory impact that the former has on the latter. It should be amplified that the concept of identity has undergone some significant shifts in its theorising which many authors attribute to as the 'crisis of identity'. Indeed, as is proposed nowadays by such authors as Featherstone, Jameson, Gergen and others, the notion of the 'core' of the self loses its significance, giving way to the new definitions of identity as fluid, incoherent, unstable, constantly in flux and changing. This implies that identity (which, basically, is the search for the meaning of the individual in relation to the self and to the society) can no more be fixed and this contradicts with the way identity was perceived before the debates on globalization became so widespread. In contemporary socio-cultural conditions, it is alleged, an individual is 'forced' to be in the constant search for identities, he cannot stay committed to one and the same identity for a long period of time. Undoubtedly, in order to grasp the dynamics of these perceptions, it is pertinent to take a look at the outer changes in the world that foster such shifts in academic theorising on identity, in so far as it is not an isolated phenomenon, but on the contrary, it is dislocated, that is, closely connected with and influenced by the outside which both denies that identity and provides conditions for its existence at one and the same time. I should like to take a closer look at the way the process of globalization might affect the process of identity formation and argue that some of the assumptions that presuppose that identity is affected by globalization in a predictable and somehow unified manner, tend to overlook some crucial implications of globalization. It is possible –with some degree of conventionality - to convey the essence of globalization as bearing the sense of interdependence of the world and interchangeability of many elements of it. It should be noted, that the issues of globalization, its dimensions and directions of transformation, as well as its spread and degree of influence, are not confined to the socio-cultural sphere but as well have profound impact on the economic sphere; nevertheless I shall focus on the socio-cultural dimension of globalization, since it has direct implications for identity. From a socio-cultural perspective, globalization exercises a permeating effect on building the relationships between and among various locales. Places become 'closer' to each other as time and space tend to compress due to the advances of technology and mass media: the most distanced places are easy to access, and the world seems smaller. Thus, the universalistic trends may be admitted to lie in the heart of the process of globalization. In this sense, it is the leading factor contributing to the de-centering and dislocation of identities. Due to the spread of mass communication and exacerbating pace of development of relationships in the various spheres of life, as an individual becomes more and more involved in the process of increasing 'mutuality' of the world and finds himself submerged in a great number of various dialogues and debates, he is exposed to the widest variety of opinions and viewpoints, often contradictory and hardly reconcilable. This has a direct impact on his identity in the form of multiple sources of pervasive influence; it becomes more complicated to stick to one or several distinctive identities since in order to do so it is necessary for an individual to have a reference group, which confirms and buttresses his identity. With the increase in the number of such groups originating from various cultural backgrounds, carrying various values and articulating various norms, possessing different abilities concerning de-coding the messages one is trying to covey as constitutive part of his/her identity, identity becomes more vulnerable to the influence of the external forces and more difficult to affirm. In other words, not only the relationship between people and happenings transform, but the identities of people also undergo dramatic changes. These changes have lead some authors (Baudrillard is the bright example) to take these trends to the extreme by theorizing that the notion of identity is not valid any more, that identifying himself with someone or something is not the feature that characterizes the modern (more precisely, postmodern individual). For him, the subject has dispersed and disappeared in the masses; he possesses no meaning and is noted for his 'flatness'. The mediation of experience by the means of mass communication has reached its peak, and its pervasive influence causes the substitution of the real world for the world of images, signs, and representation, when an individual no more gets involved in the relationship with the reality. Television in this respect signifies a powerful medium

of globalizing trends and is often viewed as representing a one-dimensional field of superficial images functioning without referent and meaning, where events and happenings are assembled as a collage that highlights their heterogeneity and the absence of common base. News, for instance, are often cited as the example of the collage: the events reported in a single short news program might share nothing in common but the date of happening. This radical view that basically renders globalization as being the leading factor in the dissolution of identity emphasizes its negative role in this process. Globalization, in this context, contributes to the dissolution of any stable identities, and with them, to the dissolution of the sense of self of the individual. While some of the assumptions are certainly 'grounded' in the everyday practices of the individuals, as a whole, this approach, nevertheless, overlooks some important implications of globalization for identity formation. For instance, by placing the emphasis on the unifying mediating effect of the mass media, another side of its work is neglected – their selective reproduction and representation of the events based on the cultural and national specificity of the concrete locales. Thus, many of events that obviously seem to be of primary importance in Great Britain will hardly be noticed in Russia and vise versa; most news programs on local television put an emphasis on the representation of local events over the international ones; and when presenting the international news, their interpretation will, again, be based on a whole number of factors: starting from the kind of relationship maintained with the place represented and up to the overall ideological reference frame officially endorsed within this concrete society. As far as the commercial ads are considered, the globalizing trends are definitely themselves mediated depending on the governmental policy of whether to support the local producers, or to favor the foreign ones. These examples are expedient to demonstrate that the effects of globalization sometimes are exaggerated while the local specificity is ignored or denied. As Ransome points out, by assuming that 'all relationships and processes are not only' moving, but 'in the same direction' just because 'important changes can be detected in one kind of relationship or process' we 'run the risk of trying to fit apparently inconsistent if not entirely contradictory features of recent changes into the overall model'. This also brings to attention the dialectics of global and local as the two sides of the same process that feed into rather than contradict each other. Indeed, although it may sound a little absurd, as the globalization moves on, the local becomes more and more important. What globalization had definitely contributed to was the erosion of the 'master identities' such as, for example, citizenship in the abstract meaning of membership in the territorially defined and state-governed society, and its replacement by an identity based on ethnicity, race, local community, language, and other 'local' and culturally concrete forms. In other words, the trends towards unification that were exacerbating during the past decades in turn provoked the appreciation of the role and importance of the opposing trend – towards the specific and the local. One of the explanations of these contradicting tendencies may be as follows: though the process of globalization undermines the traditional perception of locality as a bounded space characterized by a framework of close relations based upon kinship ties and length of residency since it diminishes the intensity of day-to-day contacts and overall involvement into communal activities, it seems to have a different kind of influence on another dimension of 'locality' – that is, various rituals, ceremonies and collective memories that bind the people together. As Mike Featherstone argues, this is the primary factor that fosters the sustainability of the communal ties because it is the use of commemorative rituals and ceremonies that can be understood as batteries that store and recharge the sense of communality when one is apart from the regular calendar of ceremonies (Featherstone, 1995: 103-8). Another factor that substantiates the simultaneous presence of these two tendencies is the flow of inward migration into Europe that takes place nowadays. On the one hand, this adds the assimilating of the migrants into the new culture, but on the other hand, this leads to cultural diversity and differentiation as the migrants form their local communities that play an active role in resisting being accumulated by the dominant culture.

It can be concluded that the impact of globalization is contradictory: on the one hand it works towards the unification of the world but on the other, this proves to have a dubious effect on diminishing the local specificity and the tendencies towards the local, the cultural become more and more discernible and avowed. It might be pertinent, in this respect, to speak of the unification of the parameters of difference, or structuring and limitations of the dimensions of changeability. As Wilk puts it, nowadays we confront universal categories and standards by which al cultural differences can be defined, a phenomenon that could be categorized as structures of common difference that underpin - but not impose - particular kinds of diversity and constraint the others. Nevertheless, the effect of globalization on identity formation was considerable. One of its major contributions to the shifts in the way identity is perceived and theorized nowadays, it highlighting the constructed character of many of the taken-for-granted assumptions about identity. One of the most striking examples is the one with the modern nation-states. With the erosion of the identity of a nation-state as an 'enclave' within the world economy whose growth and development is determined, primarily, by its internal processes, the concept of 'national identity' as of the 'natural state of affairs' also starts to diffuse. Instead, constructed character of national identities becomes obvious as the issue of identity politics arises. Such 'natural' assumptions about the nationstate on which it was actually built, become questioned, as:
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the nation as the 'one people's' place, the idea of 'folk' (in fact, there is hardly a state populated by 'one people') the notion of the 'ideological' coherence of one nation and its unifying into one totality on volunteer grounds (as far as many of modern nations are concerned, they were united during the long period of aggression and oppression of some national groups by the others) the assumption that the nation is based upon common and old traditions (it turns out that most of them are recent).

Besides, at present, national identity continues to be the object of governmental policy. As Featherstone notes, depending on its resources, in some circumstances (for example, the conflict nature of its relationships with a neighbor country) it may try to articulate the oversimplified image of the unity of a nation. In other circumstances, when, for instance, a given particular 'nation-state' is involved in a coalition with other states in some form of an inter-regional conflict, it may cease the articulation of the uniqueness of this nation and let it be subsumed in a larger totality. In other words, it may be more important how the nation is represented, how it is articulated than how it 'actually' is since national identity is the inexorable subject of politics, as other forms of identity also are. And it usually is how it is represented and articulated when we hear about the matter of national identity and representation is undeniably a matter of social construction. It is not the national identity alone, which constructed character was emphasized by the globalization. Globalization has had an impact on the individuals' perceptions of other 'master identities' – those of 'class', 'race', 'gender'. Indeed, the globalizing impulses providing the base for the widest distribution of intellectual ideas than ever before along with such factor as the rapidly growing importance of knowledge and information, led to the formation of a whole range of the movements of new type – the social and ecological, for instance – centered not around the issue of property possession but around the one of the possession and control of information. These movements had a profound effect on originating of the question of identity politics as they all appealed to different identities of the people and thus contributed to the adaptation of the notion of the multiple character of identities, since a single person could with relative ease be the member of different groups and movements: for example, attend the regular sessions of feminist group, participate in the demonstrations against the discrimination of students of 'racial minorities', collect signatures for the support of 'Save the Whales' campaign, etc. It should be noted, however, that all said above does not signify our adoption of the move beyond materialism as some of the authors of post-modern theories have claimed but rather the acceptance of the issue of multiplication of identities and the diminishing importance of the 'pure master identities' as ascribing an individual a place within a large group of people and thus providing him with a certain identity, through which

he views other aspects of his life. I also tried to argue that globalization is not only about unification, it is a far more complicated phenomenon that includes the dialectics and close intertwining of the trends towards unification and singularization that our society is characteristic for. References 1. Applebaum, H. The Concept of Work: Ancient, Medieval and Modern. New York Press, 1992. 2. Bauman, Z. Thinking Sociologically. Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1990. 3. Crouch, C. Social Change in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 4. Du Gay, P. Consumption and Identity at Work. SAGE Publications: London, 1996. 5. Featherstone, M. Undoing Culture: Globalization, Postmodernism and Identity. SAGE Publications: London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, 1995. 6. Featherstone, M. (ed.) Cultural Theory and Cultural Change. SAGE Publications: London, Newbury Park, New Delhi, 1992. 7. Friedman, J. Cultural Identity and Global Process. SAGE Publications: London, 1994. 8. Gergen, K. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. Basic Books: New York, 1991. 9. Giddens, A. Modernity and Self-Identity. Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991. 10. Hall et al. (eds.) Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies. Basil Blackwell, 1996. 11. Hall, S., Held. D. and McGrew, T. Modernity and Its Futures. Polity Press in association with the Open University, 1992. 12. Kellner D. 'Popular Culture and Construction of Post-modern Identities'. In Lash S., Friedman J. (eds.). Modernity and Identity. Blackwell: Oxford UK and Cambridge USA, 1991. 13. Lash S., Friedman J. (eds.). Modernity and Identity. Blackwell: Oxford UK and Cambridge USA, 1991. 14. Miller, D. Consumption and Its Consequences. In Miller, D. (ed) Consumption and Everyday Life. SAGE Publications, 1997. 15. Mort, F. Cultures of Consumption. Masculinities and Social Space in Late Twentieth Century Britain. Routledge: London, 1996. 16. Ransome, P. Sociology and the Future of Work: Contemporary Discourses and Debates. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999.

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