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The politics of time, or What was globalization?

The politics of time, or What was globalization?

Ryan Schram
ANTH 2700: Key debates in anthropology
Social Sciences Building 410 (A02)
Week of April 04, 2022 (Week 7)

Slides available at http://anthro.rschram.org/2700/2022/7

Main reading: Holtzman (2007)

Other reading: Kelly (1998)

Drawing maps

Can you draw a complete picture of the world from memory?

What do we learn when we see children’s maps of the world? For instance

Dixon, Terrance. 2019. “Middle School Student Can Draw World Map from Memory.” NBC 12 (WWBT). November 8, 2019. https://www.nbc12.com/2019/11/07/hanover-student-can-draw-map-memory/.

Redrawing maps

Abramms, Bob, and Howard Bronstein. 2002. “The [South-Up] Hobo-Dyer Equal Area Projection Map.” Amherst, Mass.: ODT Maps, Inc. http://odt.org/Pictures/sideb.jpg.

The more familiar Mercator projection distorts the distance between points near the poles, making northern areas look larger than they are relative to areas around the Equator.

This projection, a modified version of a projection created by Walter Behrmann in 1910, distorts the shapes near the Equator and the poles, but preserves shapes at about 33 degrees north and south latitude, so that every area is the same size as it is on a globe (Snyder and Voxland 1989, 19–20).

Histories are stories

Histories are maps of time.

  • Why do some histories project the pace of events in one way and not in another?
  • Why is it that in some societies, change is so important?

The emphasis on change is culturally conditioned in Western societies:

  • New things are inherently good.
  • History moves from the old to the new in a line.
  • Or, the new replaces the old, rather than develops or extends it.
  • Old things are inherited from the past; new things are created by individuals who want to create them.
  • This is a bias reflect in some schools of thought in anthropology as well.

Narrative and metanarrative

  • Narrative: A logical ordering of ideas in a linear sequence that has a beginning and an end.
    • First, A.
    • Then B.
    • And then C.
    • That’s why there’s D.
  • Metanarrative: A standarized type of narrative.

Culture gives its members a set of narratives—metanarratives—that they apply to themselves as specific instances of a general type.

Modernity is a metanarrative

“Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.”

  • Progress, development, from tradition to utopia
  • Crisis, revolution, transformation
  • Poverty, dependency, inequality

If modernity is a meta-narrative, who are its stock characters?

Who is the hero?

Who is the villain?

What is a type of person?

  • What is the quality of being a person, rather than a person itself? That is, what is personhood in general?
    • Are dogs persons? Why or why not?
    • Are refugees persons? If so, why don’t we treat them like people?

Auhelawa: Yams are people too

  • Auhelawa gardeners must work continuously in yam gardens for several months to produce yams.
  • This, however, is not work in the sense of productive labor. It is care. If yams are neglected, or mistreated, by gardeners, they will feel shy, and will not produce tubers.
    • Yams are people too, but not because yams have rights. Yams and humans both need to be cared for, and respond to other people’s treatment of them.
  • What does the Western metanarrative of modernity sound like to an Auhelawa gardener?

Nostalgia as ideology and as critique

  • Every society is part of a global order, but every person sees the same global order through the lens of their own local world-picture. One’s own world-picture is a distortion of the world, and one’s place in it.
    • The world-picture of the Western consumer is a nostalgic picture that assumes Samburu culture is dying. It erases the older forms of global connection already there.
    • Samburu elders have a nostalgic picture of the world, too. Their nostalgia is part of a moral argument for social order and collective wellbeing.
  • Neither nostalgic picture of the world is true.
    • In fact, anthropologists would say that the global order has always been defined by both connection and isolation, movement and stoppage. It is neither an inevitable march toward progress nor an inevitable loss of a diversity of cultural traditions.

Metanarratives of change and the study of difference

It is a fact that no society is static, and that no society exists in pristine isolation. Given this, is the term globalization useful? What’s special about this period in history?

There are two parts to what we mean by globalization we need to separate

  • There is a global economic system in which societies all societies participate, and on which people in all societies depend, but in which each society plays a different, unequal role.
  • There are also the stories people learn to understand their place in this system
    • One story is a happy story of progress toward modernity.
    • Another story is a sad, pessimistic story of increasing misery, poverty, and inequality.

Globalization is plural

Today there are many different global contexts

Which one matters the most is a subject of debate

  • Global warming
  • Global politics of migration
  • Global competition among the new “great powers”
  • Possibly other “global” phenomena as well

When people say that economic globalization is slowing down or going in reverse, anthropologists would say:

  • No, this moment is still consistent with what we’ve always said about the global context in which people in every society live.
  • The dominant stories people tell about this global context are losing credibility, and new stories are emerging that map the global context in new ways.

References and further reading

Abramms, Bob, and Howard Bronstein. 2002. “The [South-Up] Hobo-Dyer Equal Area Projection Map.” Amherst, Mass.: ODT Maps, Inc. http://odt.org/Pictures/sideb.jpg.

Holtzman, Jon. 2007. “Eating Time: Capitalist History and Pastoralist History Among Samburu Herders in Northern Kenya.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 1 (3): 436–48. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17531050701625391.

Kelly, John. 1998. “Time and the Global: Against the Homogeneous, Empty Communities in Contemporary Social Theory.” Development and Change 29 (4): 839–71. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-7660.00101.

Snyder, John Parr, and Philip M. Voxland. 1989. An Album of Map Projections. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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