Globalisation and Its Discontents

Globalisation is intimately tied up with contemporary forms of cosmopolitanism and the two terms complement one another in several ways. Roland Robertson defines globalisation as ‘the compression of the world and the intensification of a consciousness of the world as a whole’ (1992: 8). This consciousness has a direct influence on the emergence of ethical orientations, activating new connectivities and complex forms of cultural belonging. As Paul Hopper argues, globalisation encourages and generates the rise of cultural engagement rather than merely reinforcing isolated nationalistic, parochial or ethnic frameworks: ‘people in a global era can potentially foster attitudes and outlooks that transcend national boundaries. Greater geographical mobility ensures increased contact with different cultures, and greater familiarity might develop understanding, insight and even tolerance’ (2006: 54). Globalisation, while not a natural catalyst for empathetic dispositions, holds the potential to be a facilitator of cultural convergence, acting as a potent mechanism in the spread ofethical values, and opening established national allegiances or ethnic ties up to a more cosmopolitan ethos.

Through the penetration of global forces into local lives and landscapes, communities become shaped and defined by how they respond to cultural interdependence, leading Zygmunt Bauman to conclude that ‘we are all being “globalized”’ (1998: 1). In this regard, cosmopolitanism emerges as a response to globalisation. Following Walter D. Mignolo, the terms are distinguishable in that while globalisation concerns ‘a set of designs to manage the world’, cosmopolitanism specifically denotes ‘a set of projects toward planetary conviviality’ (2000: 721). Yet cosmopolitanism should not be perceived as a universal remedy to the troubles of globalisation, nor should a dichotomy exist between individual cosmopolitan agency on the one hand, and institutional frameworks for implementing global processes on the other. The various fictions examined in this study demonstrate how individuals and communities both resist and work through globalising processes, individually and institutionally, to define new ways of being in the world. Stuart Hall claims that such global interdependencies ‘constitute a profoundly new historical moment. They may even constitute the moment when such a universal vision of belonging is potentially realisable’; however, he appreciates that in the contemporary era interconnectedness is still based on a ‘structure of global power, and therefore of global or transnational inequalities and conflicts rather than the basis of a benign cosmopolitanism’ (2008: 345, 346). Globalisation will therefore be positioned as both an economic and cultural phenomenon, responsible for engendering an emergent convergence culture of mutual dependence, while simultaneously deepening radical inequalities of access. An increased awareness of cultural otherness understandably reveals the asymmetrical power relations governing globalised life. For this reason, Mike Featherstone is wary of positioning globalisation as synonymous with universalism. Conceptualising the globe as ‘a single place’ creates ‘a sense of false concreteness and unity’; instead, global culture should involve ‘heaps, congeries, and aggregates of cultural particularities juxtaposed together on the same field’ (1996: 70). Linking the idea of universalism to globalisation implies a form of homogenisation which neglects the heterogeneity of world cultural experience (often arising from active resistance to globalising processes). Globalisation is ultimately a complex process that leads to forms of exclusion and segregation as much as interconnection and integration. With this in mind, literary critics Peter Childs and James Green rightly argue that globalisation ‘in literature is not best seen as an aesthetic representation of the universal in the local, but as a fiction staged against an awareness of the interconnected, interdependent, but unequal world’ (2013: 2). It is only by working through globalising discourses that cosmopolitanism may offer new outlooks on the twenty-first century condition, establishing new forms of personal and communal connectivity, from the local scales of daily life to the abstract levels of planetary togetherness.

Although cosmopolitanism is often perceived as a synonym for globalisation, Ulrich Beck and Natan Sznaider focus on the local/global dynamic to distinguish the terms: globalisation occurs ‘out there’, while cosmopolitanisation involves an internalisation of globalisation and ‘happens “from within”’ (2010: 389). Such internalisation enables cosmopolitanisation to operate as ‘a non-linear, dialectical process in which the universal and the particular, the similar and the dissimilar, the global and the local are to be conceived, not as cultural polarities but as interconnected and reciprocally interpenetrating principles’, which force individuals to acknowledge ‘the real, internal cosmopolitanization of their lifeworlds and institutions’ (Beck 2006: 72-3, 2). Despite this, the criticism remains that global theories of cultural interaction retain an apparent disregard for world citizens who are unable to participate in the global arena or for whom mobility is not an option. The works ofSmith and Cole address this limitation by revealing contemporary forms of cosmopolitanism to be as intimately concerned with local contexts as much as transnational mobilities, interrogating pragmatic forms of engagement by non-elite citizens. Appropriately, Beck acknowledges that cosmopolitanisation of territory reveals an awareness of ‘the dynamics of global risks, of mobility and migration’ engendered by an engagement with transnational concerns in localised settings (2008: 27). For example, Cole’s fiction reveals the ways by which parochial settings operate as microcosmic analogies for the global relations of the wider world. Crucially, however, borderlessness is no longer a necessary requirement for cross-cultural interaction, with many of the tensions and concerns raised as a direct result of nation-state allegiances or local ties. Rather, this study follows Robbins in perceiving cosmopolitanism to involve an inscription of ‘(re)attachment, multiple attachment, or attachment at a distance’ (1998b: 3). What the fictions discussed in this study share is an embrace of wider connectivities, operating alongside existing bonds, in formulating a sense of global belonging, and demonstrate the emergence of a critical cosmopolitan outlook that specifically interrogates assumptions regarding ethnic heritage or racial grouping.

As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri suggest, globalisation ‘is not one thing, and the multiple processes that we recognize as globalization are not unified or univocal’ (2000: xv). This study will therefore attempt to address the context-specific manifestations of globalising processes in the disparate fictions, questioning whether these forces foster a more cosmopolitan outlook - concerning a greater understanding and empathy for the lives of cultural others, coupled with an acknowledgement of the necessity for cross-border interdependencies - or create resistance towards wider allegiances and cultural attachments. Similarly, while this study will follow Werbner in acknowledging that globalisation can be perceived as the ‘(mainly Western) spread of ideas and practices’, and cosmopolitanism involves an inherent ‘complicity with Western hegemony’, it will be argued that the twenty-first century environment offers an unprecedented moment whereby the formation of new cross-border dependencies and associations of peoples, goods and communications activates an ethical response to the lives of others (2008b: 2; 2008a: 49). Attempting to ostracise or ignore the fate of fellow citizens simply ensures their fates invariably become our own, and cultural relations are increasingly fostered through an awareness of inhabiting a shared, but not unified, world. Globalisation, then, ‘has become central to understanding the complex transformations reshaping social, political, economic and cultural spheres at the beginning of the new century’, and is integral to any discussion of ethical relationality in contemporary fiction (Childs and Green 2013: 3). Moreover, globalisation is especially pertinent to any discussion of contemporary literature from Britain or the United States - elite nation-states that are subject to unprecedented levels of globalisation and transnational mobilities.4 As Inda and Rosaldo argue, ‘the nation-states of the West have become homes to a host of diverse and sometimes incommensurable cultures [... ] They have developed into sites of extraordinary cultural heterogeneity’ (2008: 23). Further, English is undoubtedly a global language, mirroring globalisation in its imposition of a unitary code constantly being adapted to specific cultures and localities, justifying this study’s concentration on British and American fiction.

The cultural connectivities revealed in the work of David Mitchell correspond to Hardt and Negri’s notion of the ‘multitude’: ‘a network that provides the means of encounter so that we can work and live in common’ (2004: xiv). In their two interrelated works, Empire (2000) and Multitude (2004), Hardt and Negri position the multitude as operating in opposition to dominant forms of globalisation and capitalist exploitation, which they term ‘Empire’. While Empire represents the rampant forces of Western homogenisation, the multitude is a counterforce offering a form of liberation through heterogeneity, being ‘composed of innumerable internal differences that can never be reduced to a unity or a single identity’ and offering ‘different ways of living; different views of the world’ (2004: xiv). They acknowledge, however, that for many the notion of the multitude is arguably only applicable to the Western world ‘and cannot apply to the subordinate regions in the global south: “You are really just elite philosophers from the global north pretending to speak for the entire world!”’ (2004: 226). Yet by demonstrating how the multitude responds to non-elite concerns and practices, they reveal how the concept is composed of these new ‘creative subjectivities’ that arise as a result of globalisation, forming ‘constellations of singularities and events that impose continual global reconfiguration on the system’ (2000: 60). The challenge of realising the multitude thus reflects the challenges to cosmopolitanism itself. By addressing how non-elite migrant workers are com- plicit in and affect the global system, the contemporary forms of cosmopolitanism proposed in this study attempt to escape the worse charges of Western elitism, revealing how the interdependencies of the globalised world are beginning to override cultural inequalities and dominant power-structures.5

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >