Sep 14, 2009

Thread - What beyond nations?

All of the readings this week at least brushed the issue of structures beyond nations. As globalization continues at its breakneck pace, will nations fall to the way-side or be transformed.

Catells seems to take a rather lofty view of a global government or rather an intergovernmental institution. "The increasing inability of nation-states to confront and manage the processes of globalization of the issues that are the object of their governance leads to ad hoc forms of global governance and, ultimately, to a new form of state." (p.42) This new form will require collective decision-making between nations, subject to the mediation and feedback from the global civil society. This society, by the way, has "now has the technological means to exist independently from political institutions and from the mass media." (p.42) (How many would this society encompass then? Because I can think of at least five countries off-hand that can just shut down their nation's Internet on a whim.) He makes an odd statement soon after that therefore public opinion should be "harnessed" through the media, despite having stated basically the opposite pages before - where the public 'harnesses' nations in order to maintain social change. Finally though, he makes this final statement: "Public diplomacy is not propaganda...It is to induce a communication space in which a new, common language could emerge as a precondition for diplomacy, so that when the time for diplomacy comes, it reflects not only interests and power making but also meaning and sharing." (p.45)

Like I said, lofty.

However, Castells fails to extrapolate how to adequately transition from our current system to this grand global scheme. He wants states to stop thier petty emphasis on their own self-interest, taking the next step toward real democracy - a government with the people's human lives interests at heart. I have a hard time imagining that just spontaneously happening. Likewise, this 'new, common language' - who determines it? Does it just somehow magically come into existence? Someone is going to determine those meanings and that means power is going to be a key factor in this development.

Karim and Waisbord take a different approach, examining the idea of new identities taking over rather than some mystical global brotherhood.

Waisbord considers it the most extensively. Nations introduced the idea of larger institutions based on cultural bonds instead of basic economic or political control. Media played a key part in spreading this common culture and constructing an 'imagined community.' It made media make national feelings 'normal' and provided a national context or lens for everyday events. We should not underestimate this influence. Karim points out that the West has succeeded in exporting this idea of nations as 'natural' to every part of the world, reinforcing it through foreign-initiated education, despite the fact it was not until the Peace of Westphalia that national exclusiveness was established.

Now today, in today's globalized world, media has a two-fold effect. On one hand, it stifles local cultural creation in favor of big, rich cultures, perpetuating long-term Western ideas. At the same time, new technologies eliminate old barriers to information and communication beyond communities. Now here Waisbord comments that there are arguments for national media. But is it cultural self-expression or politically sanctioned culture (where the government takes the place of the colonizer), which belongs to the time of 'cultural sovereignty?' (Each writer agrees that that time has passed.)

Waisbord turns from this issue to focus on the self-expression that is occurring, transnational identities and cultures. For one, there are the globalist perspectives of Castells. Waisbord does not believe this will supersede nationalism as it is devoid of common history and cultural bonds that could unite movements under its banner, nor does it demand exclusive loyalty. (Again the issue of motivation.) Global media helps open up the world, but it is still very limited, again lacking the emotional grip of common symbols, history and a possibility of socio-political rewards.

Karim agrees. Nations are becoming more accepting of multiculturalism, uniting the people with a set of civic values, but the majority still dominates. Therefore transnational groups spring up, but "they do not replace nation-states but locate themselves within and across them..." (p.406) Transnational, faceted global identities and cultures add layers to national cultures, but so far have not supplanted them. "Nations have a future as long as human groups require a basis to establish unity and difference from others, and group identity is based on inclusion and exclusion." (p.384)

There will always be inclusion and exclusion in my mind. I have not as rosy glasses as Castells. But will that mean that nations will be the winner? The world faces both unification and disintegration forces - we have the EU and now Kosovo as a country. Will EU become more unified or Kosovo more divided? Or will we remain in this tension for that much longer? I honestly don't know.

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