Critical World
Thinking Globalization Through Popular Culture
What is “globalization”?

What is “globalization”?

Despite the complex and dynamic nature of the processes of globalization most of what we have to say about it has become rather predictable: globalization is the expansion of commercial networks, the blurring of cultural and national boundaries, and the compression of space and time. Most descriptions of globalization begin with a description of the world as a globalized- globalizing place, overflowing with spectacular combinations of material culture, juxtapositions of place, and confusions of scale: American fast food restaurants in formerly communist economies, indigenous people from the Amazon basin in full traditional garb using a video camera, cell phones in the African bush, and so on.

This snapshot approach to the study of globalization is problematic because it plays on a series of “surprising” juxtapositions that place the material culture of Western modernity in the same semiotic frame as the West’s imagined Others (capitalism vs. communism, tradition vs. modernity, big vs. small, etc.). As a rhetorical device, these images can be quite effective, but from an analytical point of view they tell us more about Western categories of knowledge than they do about the “world of globalization” (Inda & Rosaldo 2008). Indeed, the rhetorical device of juxtaposition has been a central feature in much of the anthropological literature on the topic of globalization, and this tendency suggests that our theoretical frames are limited by a tendency to think about complex problems in the simplified terms of opposition (c.f. Tsing 2000). The world of commentary on globalization can easily be divided into cheerleaders and naysayers, and this is true of the scholarly literature as well.

Anna Tsing argues that we should be just as interested in the phenomenon of globalization as we are in “endorsements of the importance of globalization”, what she refers to as “globalism” (2000). According to Tsing, globalization’s charisma—its ability to “excite and inspire”—should not cause us to shy away from the critical study of this phenomenon, but rather it should serve as a source of critical reflection and, as others have argued, theoretical renewal (Mazzarella 2004, 348). In her reading of David Harvey’s contribution to the field of globalization studies, Tsing argues that globalist anthropology has uncritically reproduced his notion of “time-space compression” as proof that we have entered into a new era, one in which cultural diversity is increasingly in danger of being organized (Hannerz 1996) and difference increasingly commodified (Erlmann 1996).

While it is certainly true that technological changes in the areas of transportation and telecommunication have altered our way of moving and communicating, it is far from clear that these changes are experienced in a universal fashion (Bauman 1998). If we are able to establish that the way that people experience time and space has changed, what are the advantages, either intellectually or politically, of documenting this type of change? The critical study of global encounters through music points in rather different directions, not only that knowledge about the world is made possible through various types of encounters, but also that the outcomes of these encounters are highly constrained by actors and institutions outside of or beyond the control of individual artists or consumers.

(excerpt from Music and Globalization, Indiana University Press, 2012).


Selected References:

Asad, Talal. ed.  1973.  Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter.  London: Ithaca Press.

Bauman, Zygmunt.  1998.  Globalization:  The Human Consequences.  New York:  Columbia University Press.

Brennan, Timothy.  2001.  World Music Does Not Exist.  Discourse, 23.1, Winter.

Byrne, David. 1999.  “I Hate World Music”, The New York Times, October 3.

Fabian, Johannes.  1983.  Time and the Other:  How Anthropology Makes Its Object.  New York:  Columbia University Press.

Feld, Steven.  2001.  “A Sweet Lullaby for World Music.”  In Globalization, edited by Arjun Appadurai.  Durham, NC:  Duke University Press.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg.  1989.  Truth and Method. 2nd rev. edition. Trans. J. Weinsheimer and D.G.Marshall. New York: Crossroad.

Guilbault, Jocelyne.  1993.  Zouk:  World Music in the West Indies.  Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press.

Hannerz, Ulf.  1996.  Transnational Connections:  Culture, People, Places.  New York:  Routledge.

Inda, Jonathan Xavier and Renato Rosaldo (eds.).  2008.  The Anthropology of Globalization:  A Reader.  Blackwell.

Mazzarella, William.  2004.  Culture, Globalization, Mediation. Annual Review of Anthropology. 33: 345-67.

Meintjes, Louise.  2003.  Sound of Africa : Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio. Durham, NC : Duke University Press.

Meyer, Birgit and Peter Geschiere.  2003.  Globalization and Identity:  Dialectics of Flow and Closure.  Malden, MA:  Blackwell Publishing.

Shain, Richard.  2002.  Roots in Reverse: Cubanismo in Twentieth-Century Senegalese Music.  The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 35 (1). Pp. 83-101

Sterne, Jonathan.  2003.  The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham, NC:  Duke University Press.

Taylor, Julie.  1998.  Paper Tangos.  Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Taylor, Timothy D.  2007.  The Commodification of Music at the Dawn of the Era of ‘Mechanical Music’.  Ethnomusicology.  51 (2).

_____.  N.d..  Global Capitalism and the Commodification of Taste.

Tomlinson, John.  1999.  Globalization and Culture.  Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph.  2003.  Global Transformations:  Anthropology and the Modern World.  New York:  Palgrave.

Tsing, Anna.  The Global Situation. Cultural Anthropology, 15 (3):  327-360

White, Bob W.  2002.  “Congolese Rumba and Other Cosmopolitanisms.”  Cahiers d’études africaines XLII (4)168: 663-686.

_____.  2008.  Rumba Rules:  The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu’s Zaire.  Durham, NC:  Duke University Press.