GLOBALISM, LOCALISM, AND ISLAMISM(1)
Migration, Identity, and World System Development
By Majid Tehranian
World system development has been always
triggered by large-scale population movements. Ibn Khaldun, a 14th
century Islamic historian and perhaps the first world system theorist,
viewed history as a continuing struggle for hegemony between nomadic and
sedentary populations. He thus provided an ingenious explanation for the
rise and fall of successive dynasties in the Islamic world. But he also
provided a key for understanding much of world history in terms of
population movements and migrations. This essay argues that his
perspective may explain some of the major trends of our own times, notably
those of globalization, localization, and indigenization movements, such
as that of Islamism.
A Global Apartheid?
Thomas Schelling (1992: 196-210), a conservative scholar and analyst of international conflict, has aptly compared the current world situation with that of South Africa under apartheid. His reasons for doing so are well-worth quoting at some length:
"If we were to think about a 'new world order' that might embark on the gradual development of some constitutional framework within which the peoples of the globe would eventually share collective responsibility and reciprocal obligations, somewhat analogous to what we expect in a traditional nation state, and if we were to think about the political mechanisms that might be developed, what actual nation, existing now or in the past, might such as incipient world state resemble? If we were to contemplate gradually relinquishing some measure of sovereignty in order to form not a more perfect union, but a more effective world legal structure, what familiar political entity might be our basis for comparison?
"I find my own answer stunning and embarrassing: South Africa.
"We live in a world that is one-fifth rich and four-fifth poor; the rich are segregated into the rich
countries and the poor into poor countries; the rich are predominantly lighter skinned and the
poor darker skinned; most of the poor live in 'homelands' that are physically remote, often
separated by oceans and great distances from the rich."
Despite increasing barriers to immigration, massive population movements are taking place all over the world in two predominant forms. At the top of the social structure, as Jonathan Friedman also notes in this issue, a growing population of global nomads associated with transnational corporations (TNCs), transnational media corporations (TMCs), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), alternative governmental organizations (AGOs), transnational military organizations (TMGs), and transnational tourist organizations (TTOs) are roaming the globe as managers, producers, guardians, and celebrants of the global economy. At the bottom of the social structure, economic and political strife has forced an increasing number of refugees away from their homelands into the vortex of transborder migration. If we add the great exodus of rural population to urban centers in the less developed countries (LDCs), migration is a major source of the postwar economic growth, urban decay, and political upheavals.
The impact of population movements on the world system is of far-reaching consequence. It has created a global elite and a global underclass colliding in the major world metropolitan centers. The old world centers and peripheries were primarily conceived in territorial terms. The core in Western Europe and North America were assumed to be exploiting the peripheries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in a pattern of "development of underdevelopment" (Frank 1969) that reproduced economic and political dependency. However, some former peripheries have now reached the status of world centers (Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong) while others (Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia) are making impressive strides. Moreover, the new world centers and peripheries are deterritorialized. The new nomads are no longer confined to particular sets of countries defined as developed or developing. A member of the global elite can be in any major world city in the North or the South and enjoy a life style facilitated by luxury hotels and restaurants while plugged into the global telecommunication network. The world underclass is also making its presence felt in the slums of most major metropolitan centers typified by violence, crime, and drug trafficking.
A global apartheid appears to be developing. Marshall McLuhan's "global village" is divided between castles inhabited by the lords of the manors, protected by moats of electronic surveillance, and surrounded by teeming, restless peasants living in Panoptican societies controlled by the castles' watchmen stationed in the towering cameras of remote sensing satellites. Similar to the South African apartheid regime, a global apartheid does not provide a stable system. Requiring a free flow of goods, services, capital, labor, information, porous borders, and ethnic divisions across boundaries, the transnational world economy is vulnerable to sabotage, terrorism, recession, and protectionism. In creating a global apartheid, the new post-industrial, informatic imperialism has thus sown the seeds of its own destruction.
The parallels between the late 20th century and the early Middle Ages have been evocatively explored by Jacques Attali (1991) and Lewis H. Lapham (1994) among others. Similar to the Fall of Rome, the dissolution of the European imperial systems in the second half of the 20th century, has turned into what appears to be a neo-feudal order in which a global pancapitalist, state-corporate alliance controls the markets of ideas and commodities while the localist forces of resistance and revolt fight on to maintain their porous and vulnerable territorial and cultural spaces. So long as the old Cold War persisted, a rough balance of power was creating a buffer zone in the Third World between the two global systems of capitalism and communism. With the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet empire as the last of the European empires, the moral geographies of the nation-state system have shifted from bipolar rivalries towards a contestation among the competing cultural cartographies of globalism, regionalism, nationalism, localism, environmentalism, feminism, and religious revivalism. The global village thus consists of its established centers (European Union and NAFTA), the emerging peripheries of centers (East Asia, ASEAN, South Africa, and certain oil rich countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), struggling peripheries (much of Latin America and the Middle East), and stagnating peripheries of peripheries (much of black Africa). The fate of Central and Eastern European countries hangs on whether they can establish firm alliances with the Lords of the Manor (as in the expansion of NATO) or become marginalized. Centers, peripheries, and semi-peripheries thus can be found both among and within countries.
Metaphors are, of course, more suggestive than explanatory. But the metaphor of a wired global village with its castles, lords, shamans, peasants, and jesters has the value of shocking us into the recognition of the contradictions of global modernization, democratization, and communication. Since the 16th century, all three processes have contributed to the development of a global hierarchy of nations and ethnicities organized around the moral geographies of city-states, nation-states, empire-states, and increasingly global states and corporations. Individuals and groups find their place in this hierarchy in accordance with their degree of access to the economic, political, and communication resources of the states and corporations at the centers and peripheries of power. The new centers and peripheries are not territorial but information-bound. This historical process has progressively incorporated the world into an order of modernity and postmodernity in which the contradictions of the global and the local have become a central problem of our own age. Lapham (1994: 9) has captured these contradictions rather well:
"The postmodern frontiers define markets and spheres of commercial interest, not the boundaries of sovereign states, and corporations that employ more people than lived in medieval Paris acquire the rank and dignity of princes. The consanguine hierarchies of international capitalism imitate the old feudal arrangements under which an Italian noble might swear fealty to a German prince or a Norman duke declare himself the subject of an English king.
The lords and barons of the smaller fiefs become vassals to larger holding companies, owning
their allegiance not to Britain or the United States but to Citibank or Bertlesmann or Matsushita,
and all present (stewards, castellans, knights-at-arms, seneschals, waiting women, and the court
fool) depend upon a corporate overlord not only for the means but also for the terms of their
existence-gladly relinquishing the rights of free citizens in return for a greyhound and a room
with view of the Rhine."
Lest this portrait seems too fanciful, it would be salutary to remind ourselves of a few facts of international life. Communism has failed. Socialism in places such as Western Europe is showing signs of old age. Welfare is being dismantled in affluent societies such as the United States. The costs of maintaining health, education, and welfare for teeming millions victimized by structural or cyclical unemployment, are mounting beyond the ability and willingness of the states to tax. Additionally, the new institutions of electronic money and transborder cash flows are stripping the states of their ability to tax the rich who can hide their wealth in offshore and secret bank accounts (The Economist, May 31, 1997, 15, 21-23), and the middle class, which carries the main burden of taxation, refuses to be further burdened by what it considers immigrants and "welfare cheats."
In the meantime, greed works. Pancapitalism is delivering the goods. But in delivering them, it also bifurcates societies into the privileged and the poor. Primitive accumulation in the sweat shops of the newly-industrializing countries (NICS) are taking jobs away from the sunset industries of the previously-industrialized countries (PICs). As the NICs attempt to catch up, the PICs experience lowering wages and standards of living among the working class. This, in turn, is giving rise to mounting racism, anti-immigrant sentiments, and cries for protectionism among the PICs. A new international division of labor is emerging in which the PICs have to focus on high-tech industries (computers, aerospace, biotechnology) while the NICs concentrate on low-tech (textiles, shoes, stationary, microprocessing). Despite their phenomenal success in growth rates, the NICs are also experiencing major social and economic dislocations. As one NIC president put it aptly, "Brazil is doing well, but Brazilians are not." That can be said of most fast growing countries without a safety net to support the vulnerable sectors of their population. Income differentials among different social classes, ethnic groups, and regions are rapidly widening in both NICs and PICs (Rifkin 1996, UNDP 1996).
Pancapitalism has found an ingenious solution to this problem: gated ghettoes, factories, and residential communities. In Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Bombay, and Calcutta, the ghettoes for the poor are more or less defined and cordoned off geographically. It is unsafe for the outsiders to wander off into these areas. The insiders live by their own rules dominated by territorial imperatives and gang warfare. In the United States, most of the victims are not the ghetto outsiders but the insiders inflicting violence mostly on themselves. The police often shy away from entering the scene preferring to leave the ghettoes to their own devices.
The identical twin of the poor ghettoes are the rich ghettoes of gated residential communities cordoned off by private police and electronic surveillance. These two types of ghettoes lock the privileged and the poor safely into separate times, spaces, and identities. A third type of gated ghettoes are appearing in a new guise as "gated factories." As Fred Riggs (1997: 1) has noted, this type of zonal capitalism is particularly characteristic of Southeast Asian countries:
"These are enclaves in a third world country like Indonesia which maximize opportunities for investors to accumulate profits in the production of manufactures (from shoes, fabrics and garments to cars, furniture and electronics) for which demand on a global level is escalating while costs can be reduced maximally by minimizing social and environmental accountability. During the period from 1989 to 1994, the number of these estates in Indonesia has escalated from about a half-dozen to almost 100, while at the same time their capital costs have shifted almost completely from the state to private capital. The trends apparent during this 5-year period seem destined to continue in Indonesia, and parallel in neighboring countries, as well as in widely scattered parts of the third world, appear likely to mushroom, with implications that stagger the imagination.
The structural violence of such gated ghettoes and factories somewhat parallel those of the company towns of an earlier era of industrialization in the PICs (K. Tehranian 1995). "I have sold my soul to the company store," was the cry of the working class sentiments of that earlier era. Under the democratic conditions of Western countries, the labor union movement provided a "countervailing power" (Galbraith 1956) to such conditions of total surveillance and control. The decline of the unions in the PICs and their conspicuous absence in the NICs are alarming signs that gated capitalism can return and has, in fact, established itself in many pockets of the world. As wages rise in the NICs and decline in the PICs, pancapitalism can return to its original home where labor unions have been subdued. In fact, the appearance of some sweatshops in major U.S. cities such as New York and Los Angeles is a lively testimony to the global mobility of labor and capital. In sweatshops staffed by legal and illegal immigrants, Chinese capitalists can produce cheaper in New York than in Hong Kong. The organization of a new Labor Party in the United States, in 1997, is an effort to reverse these trends. It remains to be seen if labor can counter its technological displacement by political means alone.
Despite its superficial resemblance to feudalism, pancapitalism is a new phenomenon. In
feudalism, communication among the autonomous principalities was minimal and the economy
largely survived on self-sufficiency. By contrast, pancapitalism is based on global
communication and mobility of factors of production while commodity production for the global
marketplace is its sine qua non. Under pancapitalism, interdependency is a fundamental fact of
life. On the negative side, environmental pollution, epidemic diseases, biological, chemical, and
nuclear wars, drug trafficking, money laundering, arms races, financial corruption, and
genocides, all have a nasty habit of crossing borders. Positively, technological innovation,
economic growth and prosperity, and expanding educational opportunities also trickle down and
across the globe. The future of pancapitalism hinges on whether or not it can resolve the daunting
problems of social disequilibrium it creates through its spectacular economic and technological
Evolution of the World System
To understand the nature of this challenge, it is useful to look back into the history of world system development. The concept of a "world system," hyphenated by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974, 1979; Hall 1996: 441), refers to the patterns of global economic development since the 16th century. In Wallerstein's usage, the world-system is primarily an economic division of labor among world centers, peripheries, and semi-peripheries. The model explains the patterns of economic development that emerged after the 16th century and European colonization of the world. During this period, Africa, Asia, and America served as producers of raw materials, cheap labor, and consumer markets to an industrial Europe. My usage of the term of "world system" in this essay is more generalized and therefore without a hyphen. The essay argues that imperial world systems prior to the 16th century was based on trade and political domination rather than a strict economic division of labor (Frank 1993, Abu Loghod 1989, Chase-Dunn & Hall 1997). As the colonies and semi-colonies (United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, China, and Southeast Asia) each extricated themselves from the European hegemony, the simple division of labor has developed into new patterns of imperial domination. We are returning now to the old patterns of political domination coupled with trade without the strict division of labor among countries which was characteristic of the colonial era.
In this sense, "world system development" refers to a progressive incorporation of the entire world from the ancient agrarian, multinational empires into a single political economy in the late 20th century. This process is triggered by large-scale population movements. Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), a 14th century Islamic historian and perhaps the first world system theorist, viewed history as a continuing struggle for hegemony between nomadic and sedentary populations. Writing in the 14th century from the vantage point of an Islamic historian, he may be considered a forerunner of modern social science theorists. By anticipating much of the economic, social, and political theories that emerged from the 18th century onwards under the banner of classical economics, sociology, and political science, his cyclical view of history focused on migration and social solidarity (asabbiya) as key factors in understanding the dynamics of Islamic history. He argued that history is a constant struggle between nomadic and sedentary populations for domination and thus provided an ingenious explanation for the rise and fall of successive dynasties in the Islamic world. But he also suggested a key for understanding much of world history in terms of population movements and migrations. His perspective is useful in explaining some of the major trends of our own times, notably, those of globalization, localization, and indigenization movements such as that of Islamism.
The world system may be argued to have gone through three major interlocking phases of development. At the risk of oversimplifying its complexities, world history can be viewed in terms of the evolution of imperialism from its agrarian to industrial and informatic phases. Table 1 provides a schematic view of these three phases with respect to the changing structures of state and economy as well as their associated ideological and identity configurations.(2) In its first phase, it may be characterized as agrarian imperialism marked by the rise and fall of successive multinational empires that thrived on agrarian surplus economies, urban political centers, and capital accumulation through international trade in luxury goods (witness the Silk Road and the Spice Road). During this phase, the rise and fall of imperial systems can be more generally explained in terms of Ibn Khaldun's theory of history, namely the periodic tribal conquests of sedentary populations who in turn conquered their conquerors. As the case of China demonstrates (Barfield 1989), the reverse also happened. Ibn Khaldoun explained the patterns in the Islamic world, but in China, sinification of the hinterland populations of the Chinese empire was a dominant pattern. The Chinese Great Wall was, in fact, built to protect the sedentary population against tribal encroachments. While it succeeded a majority of the time, it failed at times, as in the case of the Mongol invasion.
Table 1. World System Development
500 BC - 1648 AD
1648 - 1991 AD
1991 - PRESENT
City States + Tribes
|Super-States + National+States + Transnational Regimes (IBRD, IMF, WTO)|
|Economy||Tribalism + Feudalism + Commercial Capitalism||Fordist Industrial National Capitalism||Post-Fordist Informatic Transnational Capitalism|
|Pan-Nationalism + Liberalism||Globalism + Resistance:
Regionalism, Nationalism, Localism
|Identity||Imperial + Local||National-Imperial +
|Global + Resistance: Pluralizing sites of identity|
More recent research into comparative world systems show that commercial trade and political hegemony were supported by four major multinational agrarian empires: in East Asia (Chinese), in South Asia (Indian), in Central and West Asia (Persian, Arab, and Turkik), and in West (Greek and Roman). Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) have provided a summary of much of this research with a rich diversity of mappings of the agrarian empires. Map 1 gives a glimpse of the Silk Road empires. In his periodization of world history, Jerry Bentley (1996:749-770) has identified the early part of this period as "the age of classical civilizations, unfolding from about 500 B.C.E. to 500 C.E." In addition to the rise of major universal religions (Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity) and philosophies (Taoist and Greek), Bentley notes, "the classical civilizations also organized states on a much larger scale than had earlier societies: the Han dynasty in China embraced far more territory than the Shang and Zhou dynasties, the Achaemenids dynasty in Persia dwarfed earlier Mesopotamian states, the Mauryan dynasty absorbed numerous regional kingdoms in India, and the Roman empire brought all the lands of the Mediterranean basin under its control. As a result of their larger scale of organization, the states generated by the classical civilizations pacified much larger territories than had their predecessors."
Map. 1 Silk Road Empires [to be inserted]
Source: Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997: 155
Whether originating from city-states (such as the Greek and Roman empires) or established by tribal conquests of cities and rural areas (such as the Assyrian, Median, Persian, Seljuq, Mongolian, Timurid, Safavid, or Ottoman empires), all agrarian, multinational empires included a trichotomous social structure (rural, urban, and nomadic) in which nomads and sedentary populations were in constant struggle for the control of peripheries. The institutions of the imperial state followed a consistent pattern of centralized control and decentralized administration (sometimes known as feudalism). Their economies were similarly characterized by rural, urban, and nomadic production in which the exploitation of the peasants mainly paid for the imperial rule and retinue. Whenever strong imperial systems were simultaneously in power across the Eurasian landmass, trade flourished along such commercial routes as the Silk and Spice Roads. The discovery of the ocean routes in the 16th century led to the decline of the Asian routes and their commercial entrepots (Frank 1992). But Asian imperial pretensions continued until, in the 18-19th centuries, military defeats finally brought home a sense of weakness and eventual subjugation to the Europeans.
Identity structures also reflected the trichotomous social structure in which the center population identified itself with the imperial order while the periphery population belonged to the multinational religio-ethnic groups or tribes. The millet system under the Ottoman empire is typified by this kind of imperial cultural policy under which any subject could aspire to become an Ottoman while belonging to a particular autonomous millet, including the People of the Book, i. e. the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. Multinational agrarian empires were thus built on the facts of ethnic difference rather than uniformity.
The agrarian imperialist phase came to an end by the post-Westphalian rise of a second phase, labeled here as industrial imperialism, during which industrial economies, nation-states, and large-scale immigration from rural to urban areas and from Europe into the rest of the world brought about a number of competing European industrial empires. Industrial empires began in the European nation-states with nationalist ideologies that attempted to homogenize their own population into ethnic uniformity. The rise of the European nation-state system provided a new political organization far more cohesive than the imperial orders of the past. When combined with the economic discipline and strength of an industrial state, the new nations surpassed even the tribes in their asabbiya. Expanding into the entire world, the modern European empires were thus nationally and industrially based. They also facilitated a new kind of nomadism through large-scale immigration into the territories of the Old and the New Worlds. Their Achilles heel was, however, in the ideologies they exported. Nationalism, Liberalism, and Marxism became the rallying points for the colonial peoples as ideologies with which to fight back and to shame their oppressors. In the face of such resistance, different national empires assumed different strategies. The British, on the whole, followed a policy of indirect rule manipulating the traditional structures of authority to their own advantage. The French were the proud inheritors of a revolutionary tradition and consequently wished to export their political culture into the colonized territories through administrative centralization and cultural indoctrination. As inheritors of an anti-colonial tradition, the United States was willing to turn the colonies into self-governing states or territories as in the cases of Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
The end of the industrial empires, however, left a post-colonial world torn in competing ethnic and nationalist rivalries. The European model of pan-nationalism was scarcely suitable to the premodern multitribal and multiethnic societies of the postcolonial states. Thus, the Cold War exploited such internal rivalries of the new states to advance the cause of one or the other of the two superpowers. The post-Cold War period has consequently unleashed well-armed ethnic conflicts in many parts of the world. Another consequence of industrial imperialism was a process of reverse migration from the colonies to the mother countries. Millions of expatriates and their native allies had to leave their homes voluntarily or by force. The influx of such immigrants into the major metropolitan centers of Europe, North America, Russia, and Japan has intensified ethnic and racial tensions. This has in turn led to a cultural backlash against the Third World immigrants.
The third phase of world imperialism has yet to fully unfold. The passage of most advanced industrial economies into a post-industrial, informatic phase has facilitated a new type of capitalism and imperialism based not so much on control of land, nor of capital, but of the latest scientific patents and technologies. The new capitalism is global rather than global economic in scope; its loyalties are not the national flag but to the global marketplace and its profit opportunities. We may therefore call it pancapitalism. The role of information technologies is critical to pancapitalism's survival and prosperity. Nearly 70 per cent of the GDP of OECD countries is contributed by services while agriculture and manufacturing make up the rest. The bulk of these services are what might be called information services, including research and development, education, investment, banking, marketing, advertising, and the media. World centers and peripheries should be thus redefined on the basis of whether or not they can log into these information networks.
The new imperial phase can be called informatic imperialism characterized by global, post-Fordist, flexible accumulation, information economy, and transnational regulatory regimes managed by such intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Trade Organization (WTO), and International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The convergence of pancapitalism and informatic imperialism owes itself to three major transformations. First, the technological breakthroughs in information storage, processing, and retrieval, the rise of computer assisted design and manufacturing (CAD-CAM), and the use of robotics have led to new structures of production and finance. The application of information technologies to production and financing has saved labor costs and facilitated global management of transnational conglomerates.
Second, the new structures have made flexible accumulation both possible and desirable (Harvey 1990). Flexible accumulation allows to go beyond the rigidities of the Fordist assembly-line production methods to achieve a higher degree of division of labor, dexterity, and efficiency by assigning the production of different parts of the same product to a diversity of production centers spread out globally.
Third, the combination of these two factors has led to an unprecedented decentralization of capital throughout the world to wherever lower wages, rents, taxes, and government regulations can guarantee higher profits. This explains the phenomenon of downsizing, the presence of Japanese and Korean companies in remote parts of the United States and Europe, the flight of American and European industries to East Asia, and the competition for entry into the newly-opened up markets of China, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union.
Under the emerging circumstances, the small or medium-sized nation-states are of marginal consequence because their economic, military, and cultural policies are largely circumvented by the new powerful players on the world scene, namely the superstates in alliance with the TNCs and IGOs (Tehranian 1997a & b). The new global telecommunication networks have created a world system of information gathering, storage, processing, and retrieval unparalleled in all human history. Electronic cash transfers, satellite remote sensing, direct broadcast satellites, and instantaneous communication through faxes, the Internet, World Wide Web, and video conferencing have empowered those with access to such technologies. The new informatic imperialism or pancapitalism has no centers and peripheries; it thinks of itself as omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.
In his essay, included in this issue, Jonathan Friedman argues that "ethnification, social and
political disorder are expressions of declining hegemony in the global systems." But if we view
pancapitalism as the political economy of transnationalization, it can be argued otherwise. It
might be true that the individual superstates (United States, Russia, China, Britain, France,
Germany, and Japan) have each declined in the political control of their respective peripheries,
but in the meantime, the economic forces of globalization have penetrated both traditional
centers and peripheries to a degree that political control can be now exerted much more subtly
and indirectly. A small to medium size country can be brought down to its knees by the IMF's
"structural adjustment program," the World Banks refusal of lending, or the World Trade
Organization's economic sanctions. In the superstates, the transnational forces act primarily
through a combination of economic carrots and political sticks. In liberal democracies, the
politicians and the state could be also high-jacked through campaign financing and other corrupt
practices. Hegemonic domination has thus continued but its forms have become far more subtle
and complex. Pancapitalism's strategy of control hinges on the control of information, namely
control of sources of capital, patents, and copyright, political surveillance and manipulation of
politicians, and global advertising and its consuming identities (K. Tehranian 1997).
Sites of insecurity and Resistance
Pancapitalism has not been able to homogenize the world. Despite its imperial power of Cocacolonization, informatic imperialism faces a world population that is as heterogeneous and resistant to homogenization as ever. This multicultural world is growing to be even more so because the same information technologies empower the voiceless to come to historical consciousness while asserting their cultural identities. Increasing ethnification is a direct consequence of this process.
As Riggs argues in this issue, modernity by its very nature and temperament creates insecurities while privileging the new against the old, the nascent against the dying, and the strong against the weak. It thus marginalizes vast segments of the population and induces a conflict of cultures, values, and identities that cannot be easily resolved. By delinking the economy from polity and cultural production, liberal capitalism could manage for a while, to quarantine identity negotiations from the political realm. Although this delinkage often led to legitimation crises (Habermas 1973), periodic elections often managed to defuse its systemic impact. However, accelerating globalization of the markets and cultures has led to a delinkage of economy, polity, and culture. As witnessed by increasing costs of campaigning in the liberal democracies, the politicians and the capitalist state are often held hostage to the demands of the transnational market forces. Similarly, political resistance against transnational capital are increasingly taking the shape of struggles against regional economic organizations or transnational capital. Witness Ross Perot's campaign in 1992 and 1996, and the 1994-96 Chiapas struggle in Mexico against NAFTA, as well as the 1996 Filipino demonstrations against APEC, and the 1996-97 Tupac Amaru takeover of the Japanese embassy in Lima against the transnational encroachment of Peru by Japan.
As in the case of post-traditionalist (a.k.a. fundamentalist) movements in India, Iran, Israel, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, the United States, and Europe, the more recent resistance movements are also couched in cultural and identity terms. Culture has been thus increasingly politicized in many parts of the world leading to violence in places such as Bosnia, Chechnya, Mexico, and Tajikistan. The great diversity of these conflicts cannot be fully understood unless we relate them to the larger picture of global pancapitalism (Tehranian, forthcoming).
Informatic imperialism is treading on volatile grounds. The impact of pancapital on indigenous populations is a mixed blessing. While capital brings with it new technologies, management techniques, and possibilities for export-driven strategies of development, it also uproots the traditional nexus of social solidarity and identity. Moreover, it creates dualistic societies torn apart between traditional masses and modernizing elites (witness Iran, Algeria, Turkey, Egypt). It is often the transitional groups who take the lead in mobilizing the traditional, lower strata of population into a revolt against pancapitalism and its compradore elites. For this reason, it is more appropriate to call these groups post-traditional rather than fundamentalist, neotraditional, or worse yet, reactionary. When and if these groups take power, as the Islamic Ulema did in the 1979 revolution in Iran, their strategy is not to go back to the status quo ante but to steer a new course of modernization based on indigenous institutions and dissociation from pancapitalism.
This strategy may or may not succeed, but the outcome is a society that is post-traditional, not traditional. Conventional traditionalists are often marginalized in such "revolutionary" circumstances as the conservative Ulema have been in Iran. A similar situation exists in Israel in which the Orthodox Jews consider Zionism and the State of Israel as illegitimate in usurping the power of the expected Messiah.
Figure 1 puts the foregoing propositions into a schematic portrait of the polarities and spaces of
identity negotiations in the postcapitalist era. In the rapidly vanishing premodern societies, the
dominant cosmology is ecological and the sources of social solidarity and identity are primarily
nativist (indigenous, tribal, clannish). In the modernizing societies, the race to riches is grounded
in hypermodernity, the dominant rationality (cosmology) is instrumental, and the sources of
social solidarity and identity are secular nationalism. In post-traditionalist societies and
movements, reacting to the onslaught of modernization, the rationality is practical and identity
formations are based on religious faith and networks. Finally, in the postmodern world of
anti-narrative narratives, the rationality is critical and pluralist while identity formation is
characterized by hybridity and cosmopolitanism.
This essay has identified the growing gaps in wealth, income, and employment within and among nations as the symptoms of an emerging global apartheid system causing increasing social and psychological insecurities. It has further analyzed the problem in terms of a world system development from agrarian to industrial and informatic imperialism. All three phases are argued to have been characterized by massive population movements. In the latest phase, however, migrations at the top and bottom of the global social structure are exacerbating ethnic and cultural conflicts to unprecedented degrees. The cultural sites of domination and resistance have become heavily politicized. Informatic imperialism both celebrates and undermines multiculturalism. By commodifying culture, it unwittingly privileges cultural identity. However, by its inability to correct the social and economic dislocations of growth, it gives cause for culturally grounded political resistance. The politics of identity thus constitutes as a nemesis of informatic imperialism. The challenge before the world is to overcome the global apartheid that fuels much of the current international and intercultural insecurities and identity fetishisms.
World peripheries of power are resisting the new hegemonic globalist trends by regionalist, pan-nationalist, ethnonationalist, revivalist, environmentalist, and feminist movements grounded in indigenous cultures (Tehranian 1997b). In the meantime, informatic imperialism has been creating two new types of nomadic populations. At the top of the social structure, there are millions of overseas transnational corporate and IGO managers and professionals whose careers, identities, and loyalties no longer reside in one country. At the bottom of the social structure, there are currently some 27 million world refugees dislocated from their own homelands because of famine, civil wars, religious persecution, or ethnic cleansing (UNHCR 1995). These new nomads have to reconstruct their material lives and cultural identities in order to adjust to their new environments. Just like the old nomads, in pursuit of their worldly objectives, the new ones also often prove more resilient than the sedentary population while being assimilated into the mainstream. Resistance against such inroads at the peripheries of centers is expressed by the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments and policies. Informatic imperialism is thus dividing the world between the high-tech and high growth centers of the global information economy and the disintegrating peripheries competing for diminishing jobs, identities, and opportunities. Overcoming an emerging global apartheid will be the main challenge of the 21st century.
Source: Adapted from Friedman (1994: 92-93) & K. Tehranian (1998)
1. I am grateful to Didier Bigo, Andre Gunder Frank, Tom Hall, Fred Riggs, William Safran, and Henry Teune, for their encouraging and critical comments on the original draft of this essay. However, all errors of omission and commission are mine.
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Majid Tehranian is professor of Communications, at the
University of Hawaii and director of Toda Institute for Global Peace and
Policy. His latest book is Globalism and Its Discontents:
International Communication and Modernization in a Fragmented World
(1998). An earlier relevant work: Technologies of Power:
Information Machines and Democratic Prospects (Norwood, NJ: Ablex,
For related papers see:  Bigo || Teune || Friedman || Riggs || Hall || Glossary