Chapters 18 & 19: Global Changes and the Role of Anthropology
ALL CULTURES CHANGE
All cultures change. Cultural anthropology’s roots lie in the synchronic study of culture, or a one-time snapshot with little attention paid to the past. This early approach led to a view of cultures as timeless. The field has moved away from such approaches and is studying cultures with a diachronic (across-time) approach. This chapter examines contemporary cultural change shaped by globalization. Cultural anthropologists are interested in how globalization will create, transform, disrupt or damage cultures worldwide. As traditional and industrial cultures are drawn into this larger process, how will they negotiate change? Remember, there are two processes of change, independent invention (creation of something entirely new) and diffusion (the spread of new ideas through culture contact).
There are a number of different ways to refer to the different regions of the world.
- Third World is seen as a bit un-P.C. Many people now say less- or least-developed countries. Or you might hear them talk about the Global South.
- First World is also seen as outdated. We often refer to these countries as industrialized or developed countries. You also might hear the Global North used.
MODELS OF DEVELOPMENT
Anthropologists interested in globalization and change have helped to develop a number of theories or models that describe that change. There are five models by which change can be achieved. We are interested in this change because we are often involved in directed change used to improve human welfare, what we call development.
- Modernization refers to economic change where less developed countries acquire some of the characteristics of developed, Western countries. The major emphasis is on material progress. Supporters think the benefits of modernization (electricity, healthcare) outweigh the costs. Others criticize it because it leads to increased social inequality, destruction of indigenous cultures, and environmental degradation. It includes five subprocesses:
- Technological development – traditional technology gives way to the application of scientific knowledge and techniques developed in the industrialized West.
- Agricultural development – a shift in emphasis from subsistence to commercial farming. Cash cropping replaces farming for their own use. They become enmeshed in global markets for selling their products and purchasing food and other goods they need. They are thus at the mercy of the international markets and price swings in selling their food products.
- Urbanization – population movements from the rural to the urban, attended by all the social problems of poverty and crowding.
- Industrialization – a growing reliance on machines and fossil fuels while human and animal power becomes less important.
- Telecommunication – a growing reliance on electronic and digital media to share news, commodity prices, cultural features, and political opinions. Information flows freely.
- Growth oriented development is similar to modernization, but its focus is on economic growth. Investments in economic growth in some sectors of the population will support wider improvements in human welfare for all (trickle-down). Most major development organizations promote economic development through increasing productivity and trade and reducing government expenditures on public services (schools and healthcare) to reduce debt, a strategy called structural adjustment that led to further impoverishment of the Third World.
- A distributional approach to development sees poverty as the result of global economic and political factors like world trade. It rejects the claim that poverty is caused by something wrong with poor people. They find economic growth strategies that are applied without regard for how growth is distributed within a population increase inequality and poverty. They find structural adjustment programs proposed by advocates of growth oriented development remove the few support services the poor have.
- Another approach in contrast to the growth and modernization models is the human development strategy. It emphasizes investing in human welfare such as health, education and safety. Improvements in human welfare will lead to overall development because resources have to be targeted directly to those in need rather than trickling down. It is humanitarian in the short run because it alleviates human suffering, and an investment in human capital (resources that people bring to bear on situations) in the long run.
- The last position questions how economically and environmentally viable the pursuit of economic growth is in the long run. Economic growth has been achieved at a cost to the environment and can’t be sustained at its present level. Sustainable development refers to, “forms of development that don’t destroy natural resources and are financially viable.”
A GLOBAL TRANSNATIONAL CULTURE?
Human populations have always interacted with each other through trade, exploration, and migration. Many cultures benefited from these interactions, but frequently they left disease, slavery, and cultural disruption in their wake. Despite this long-standing history of contact, we can’t deny the intensity of such contact has increased tremendously since the advent of modern transportation, new telecommunication technologies and massive immigration and refugee flows.
- This global flow of people, products and ideas impacts cultures worldwide, and often leads people to question whether a single, homogenous, global culture is developing.
- Western consumer products, movies, and pop culture are adopted worldwide because these are the ads and products people see worldwide on billboards, TVs and in movies.
- The number of discrete political units in the world has decreased, while those remaining have become larger, encompassing more of these now-defunct nations.
- And while recent history is a long list of large, multi-ethnic states fragmenting, there are examples of the opposite, of (re)unification, such as the two Germany’s or even the creation of larger surpra-national political organizations such as the European Union.
- Many global integrative mechanisms have been developed to counter the divergent forces at work in large nation-states, including things like international sporting events, humanitarian organizations, volunteer groups and quasi-political international institutions like the U.N.
- But, all large states have historically tended to fall apart, often along geographic or ethnic lines.
- Political collapse in multi-ethnic states is a constant threat, especially when the different ethnic regions are not well integrated into the larger whole.
- Pluralistic societies, in which multiple ethnic groups live, can lack unifying features. But when those societies call for mutual respect and tolerance of differences, what is known as multiculturalism, there is less of a chance they will be pulled apart along ethnic lines.
- Furthermore, it’s unlikely that distinctive cultures will disappear and be replaced by a global culture because how each culture reacts to being integrated into a globalized world is distinct and new worldviews and cultural patterns continuously emerge.
- One thing we can say is that traditional cultures are often less prepared to deal with globalization than others. They are often integrated unequally into their own state systems, robbed of the ability to develop their own adaptations or to maintain their traditional life ways. When confronted with a globalized culture, what chance do they have?
STRUCTURAL POWER IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION
Colonialism consisted of a small group of European countries that ruled and exploited foreign nations all over the Global South. The current globalized system has essentially been built on that earlier system. Many anthropologists are interested in how the current structure of globalization is a continuation of that earlier system, which includes many of the same patterns of power and inequality. To understand how globalization is based in part on unequal levels of power and unequal distribution of resources, anthropologists often turn to analyzing power.
- Structural power refers to that power which organizes interactions within and among societies, directing economic, political and ideological forces. It can be applied by and to political organizations like the state, or to forces of globalization, like large multinational companies.
- Hard power refers to coercive power that is backed by the threat of force.
- In addition to military threats, either explicit or implicit, economic threats that force weak states to do what we wish are examples of hard power. We have a tendency to use military might to secure beneficial economic conditions for our government and businesses.
- In addition, Western mega-corporations are so powerful that they can thwart the wishes of national governments and overrule foreign policy decisions of their own countries.
- Soft power refers to persuasive power that uses co-optation, diplomacy and other non-coercive forms of power, to get others to change their ideas, values, and actions. Examples of soft power include propaganda, diplomacy, and foreign aid.
PROBLEMS OF STRUCTURAL VIOLENCE
Globalization is not just the closer integration of cultures worldwide. Unfortunately, it also disrupts many traditional cultures, destroying the social organizations and methods by which they previously dealt with change and adversity. States, companies and even very wealthy individuals can use hard and soft power to arrange things to their own advantage. When this kind of structural power works to undermine the well being of others through repression, environmental destruction, poverty, hunger, illness and death, it is called structural violence. The outcomes of structural violence are numerous, including:
- Overpopulation and Poverty – In the last 250 years, our population has gone from 1 billion to nearly 7 billion. It took us millions of years to accumulate that first billion and only 250 years to add 6 billion. Population growth of this size leads to hunger and pollution as we try to feed, clothe and house all those people. To support our current population, we are using up non-renewable resources.
- Hunger and Obesity – Nearly half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. At least a billion people don’t have dependable access to clean water or nourishing food. Malnourished bodies are more susceptible to disease and infections. And while there is enough food and water worldwide to feed all humans, where it is located is a problem. Some of this food insecurity arises from the shift in the Global South from subsistence farming to cash cropping for export. On the other side of this, in developed nations, people are eating themselves into obesity and its associated health problems.
- Pollution and Global Warming – The world’s most powerful countries are also the greatest producers of pollution. Massive deforestation, desertification, pollution and global warming threaten life on earth. As temperatures rise, low-lying nations and coastal cities will be submerged, destroying cultures. It appears that storms, droughts, heat waves and other weather patterns are more intense as a result of pollution-induced global warming. That means loss of life from natural disasters and population movements as refugees flee these disasters (New Orleans). We are also consuming larger amounts of carcinogenic and mutagenic (causes mutations) substances as they make their way from polluted skies into our seas, soils, plants and animals, and then into us.
REACTIONS TO GLOBALIZATION
It is important to note that the processes that constitute globalization do encounter opposition from a variety of movements and organizations. Resistance exists both in developed and less developed countries. Sometimes this resistance is manifested in an attempt to reclaim traditional activities (revitalization movements). Other times, it might take the form of grassroots movements or radical protest groups. Still other times it can lead to migration or refugee flows. The new communication technologies that exist have given many groups, traditional and radical, the ability to organize and get the word out about structural violence and inequalities.
Ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples often struggle for recognition and rights. Many of these people are parts of distinct nations as opposed to the 192 states in the world. Some of these groups have reacted to being part of larger state systems by resorting to non-violently organizing self-determination movements or taking up armed struggle to achieve their goals, such as self-determination, autonomy, independence or equitable distribution of economic resources.
- Indigenous people are usually a minority in the state systems that control their land. They occupy (or used to occupy) remote areas that have been recognized as containing valuable natural resources which governments and businesses would like access to.
- Many indigenous peoples and cultures have been exterminated because of contact with outsiders. Extermination resulted from disease, armed conflict and colonization. Colonial governments frequently took over their land, prevented them from continuing their traditional lifestyles, and often forcibly integrated them into the state.
- Indigenous groups have protested or resisted these activities. They formed their own groups to respond to threats or manage development. Efforts to develop indigenous cultures from within, driven by the people themselves, have led to increases in welfare and livelihood.
Structural violence has led to worldwide migration. Migration is nothing new to humans, but the rate of migration and the growing interconnectedness of the world give human migration in the present era a completely different flavor.
- Internal migration within a country often occurs when rural farmers or their children migrate to urban areas because they can no longer make a living on their land.
- External migration between countries, when it is voluntary, usually is a result of seeking a better life for oneself or earning some money. When it is involuntary, whether it is internal or external, we call these individuals refugees. When they are forced out as a result of development projects, we call this development-induced displacement.
- Many migrants form diasporas overseas, when they settle among fellow countrymen and reproduce cultural patterns from their homelands. They also are part of the global economy as they send remittances (money) back home to help support family left behind.
Women and Globalization - Women are of concern when it comes to change due to globalization because they see less of the benefits and more of the costs. Many directed development projects were aimed at men and bypassed women. This bias increased gender inequality. There is now a greater focus on the issue, with a subsection of development called Women and Development. In many regions, women have achieved status gains and improved their welfare by forming organizations. Additionally, as a result of female migration and the spread of education for all, women and girls are being treated more equitably worldwide.
Because of our cross-cultural perspective, cultural anthropologists are in a unique position to discuss human rights. The UN has a Declaration of Human Rights, but different states recognize different rights. We often include the right to practice cultural traditions, which moves the definition from meeting basic human needs to a recognition that even though someone might not be physically hungry, they can culturally and spiritually starve without the meaning given to them by their cultural practices. Development and human rights are linked. When states and international organizations design and decide which projects are enacted, with little input from locals, they can run afoul of those people’s rights to make decisions about their lives. Also, there are many unintended consequences to development projects. Furthermore, development projects frequently lead to environmental degradation, which erodes local people’s abilities to make a living and practice their traditional cultures.
ON TO THE FUTURE
While anthropologists have important roles to play in blowing the whistle on human rights abuses, they also must work as advocates for minority groups, bringing to bear their considerable expertise. This moves anthropology from studying what is, to working on what should be. As our discipline moves from collecting information on others and controlling that information in Western academia, to incorporating locals into our research and giving them free use of the products of such research, we are well on our way to democratizing our field and making it one of advocacy instead of just observation and accumulation of knowledge.