Globalization and otherness building

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Workshop on Ideas of Others in Different Cultures, March 8th-9th, 2007, Fragrant Hill, Beijing

« The Crisis of modernity should be better described as a crisis of otherness. Between virtual global homogenization and individualization of cosmologies, the relationship with other loses its symbolic frame, in spite of the fact that it is constituent of every individual identity »[1].

Is anthropology of globalization conceivable[2] ?

For some of anthropologists and sociologists, cultural globalization, makings vanished exotic spaces of otherness, should the end of ethnology, as a discipline and as a scientific position. On the contrary, I think that the questions of strangeness and otherness become universal.

Contemporary situation is first characterized by moving of otherness’ spaces. This situation is called globalization. It is a break of rationality for humankind. It weakens paradigms and concepts of social sciences born with industrial modernity and grown in the intellectual frame of Nation-State[3]. We need to think in another space and another time

We need to work about the contemporary meaning of main concepts of modern humankind: Politic[4], Work and Town[5], perhaps State or Society[6]. The role of anthropologist, in this case, is to work in the fields which are today the most beyond understanding for scientific thinking. He must do it about concepts of State, politics, town or work. It is necessary to understand how globalization is thought by women and men of today.

More than ever, the knowledge of otherness is an incontrovertible way to know ourselves. Indeed, in the break which is called globalization, we are paradoxically as aliens for ourselves. It is paradoxically difficult for us to know and to think the words, the ideas and the key-concepts of our time. The good field for this anthropologistic survey are the most difficult, the most arcane, and the most disputed fields of our time. These fields are often neighbouring fields for claimed or imposed otherness.

That is for me the true anthropology of present time. That is the required ambition of the anthropology for today.

This famous other is the other face of us. We can meet him in three ways:

  1. The other world
  2. The other thinking
  3. The one who is seen as a foreigner

The other world and another mode of time

Since 2000, in Europe, America, Africa and part of Asia (India, Japan), a new social movement is growing, which is called « Altermondialist movement » in Europe, or « Movement for global justice ». Its concrete being is the organization of Social Forums, World social Forum, continental social forums. This movement says that “another world is possible” I investigated this organization and tried to understand how our time, our world is thought by them. I have founded a changing of the thinking of time, of history in political imagination.

If we investigate this movement with ethnological method, we find that the uniqueness of this movement is not what many leaders say about society or politics. We need to study its organizational or linguistic practices. This study is a real learning about contemporary concepts. Why? Because we are in the presence of practices and practical thinking which have the finality of building “another world” now and here

When this movement says « another world is possible », it says that the otherness is a decree for today. The historical mode of this « possible other world » and the practices of its militants acquaint us about cultural and political « globalization ».

In fact, when we say « another world is possible » they also say that this world already exists in our world, as a practical utopia for today. This utopia is not the same kind of utopia than yesterday, in XX° century.

There is not another space neither another time for this utopia. In the « full world »[7], there is no « elsewhere ». And there is no futur. For these militants we need to do anything otherwise today. Even when they organized forums: for the food which must be without chemistry or for software which must be “free” and not Microsoft.

This transformation of subjectivity of time and history calls up the work of French historian François Hartog about “mode of historicity”[8]. For him, the « modes of historicity » are changing. In the past, there were other modes: traditional mode in which today is dependent on the past, modern mode in which today is dependant on the future, on the social outlines, on the idea of revolution, on the utopia….

The past, in modernity, as not the same useful: History becomes a science of politics, in the modernity, “today” is only a way to build the future. This “mode of historicity” sinked with the XX° century. Sometimes utopia became nightmare…

The topical “mode of historicity” which is the mode of social forums, is a time without tomorrow, a “today” without end. The “possible other world” is not a future but a way to live today. The other world belongs to our world and our time.

The other thinking : about french movement of urban youth in 2005 november

The work about French events in October and November 2005 is different. After the death of two young people, called Zyed et Bouna, during three weeks, there were riots in more than 300 towns in France. The teenagers, who burned cars during these nights, remained silent in darkness. We don’t know who they were and what they wanted to say. They remained anonymous. We saw a lot of fire, a lot of lights in the night, but we saw only shadows. Otherness is in situation….

It is difficult for us to give a name for theses events. Somebody says “riot”, another says ”rebellion”, another says “events”. We cannot be agree. This movement has no words, no slogan, no specific speech. But, the words of government, words of the ministry Nicolas Sarkozy, were very major in the start of riots. These words were heard as abusive words by teenagers of popular districts of French towns.

What means this contradiction ? I think that this lack of “words for speaking” is the reason of violence. Does it means that these teenagers had no words at all, had no political thinking ? I do not think so. By my own research, I know that this silence is not an inability to speak but is a refusal to speak. It is a refusal to speak to us, to adults, to political men, to institutions. This silence is emphasized by fire in popular districts and says something itself. There is no lack of thinking but a voluntary silent signal.

What is indescribable is a symptom of otherness between thinking of establishment and think of these teenagers[9], perhaps of their families.

There is no more common language between the teenagers of popular districts and the institutional world : police, politician, administrations …. Words become the main battlefield.

This otherness is an otherness between two languages, two thinking about urban situations that we call in France « Banlieue » « Suburbs). The political thinking of these situations cannot be speaking by language of establishment. This thinking is out of establishment, against it.

The one who is seen as a foreigner

The contemporary global city, the metropolis in glbalization give a new meaning to the junction of power, work and space in urban space.

This new meaning is a practical meaning in the territory. This meaning is a new meaning in subjectivities and in common or controversial pictures of this urban space.

A first question is : who is hence and who is not ; who is local in this town and who is a foreigner ?

It a national matter : the public matter of immigration and enculturation, the public matter of presence and rights of foreigners. The “Charter of Human Rights in the Town in Europe”[10] refuses this word and talks about an urban and multinational citizenship. In Globalization, for the migrants border are not only between states. When they have crossed this geographical border, they meet it inside the cities: this is the border between rights and no rights, legal and illegal migrant.[11]

It is an urban matter. The dwellers or popular districts in suburbs in France have a problematic feeling of belonging to the city. Today in France, urban politics are politics of demolition of social housing. It is a stigmatization of these housings and the people who live here.

It is an administrative matter. When there is a lack of housing as in France today, there is many squatters. What is the status of these people? Are they citizen as the others?

There is many ways to be a “foreigner in the city” today. Globalization makes new borders inside the cities.

These three kinds of otherness have something common. They are otherness of neighbourhood. They can be very contentious. They can be formulated by riots or ethnical conflict. They are the root of contemporary state building, a war state building. The legitimacy of this “war state” is not overall good but the shielding of “good citizens” and “good fellows” against dangerous otherness. Who are “good citizens” and “good fellows”? Those who obey the private conventions not only the public rules.


[1] Marc Augé, Pour une anthropologie des mondes contemporains Flammarion, 1994. page 87.

[2] Mirza V., 2002, « Une ethnologie de la mondialisation est-elle possible ? », Anthropologie et Sociétés, XXVI, °1 : 59-175 ; Cuillerai M., Abélès, M., 2002, « Mondialisation : du géoculturel au bio-politique », Anthropologie et Sociétés, XXVI, 1 : 11-28 ; Bessis R., 2004, .Dialogue avec Marc Augé autour d’une anthropologie de la mondialisation, Paris, l’Harmattan

[3] Bauman Z., La société assiégée, Le Rouergue Chambon, 2005

[4] Lazarus S., Anthropologie du nom, Seuil, 1996.

[5] Bertho A., « Penser la ville monde », Socio-anthropologie n° 15, 1er semestre 2005.

[6] Bauman Z., op.cit., 2005

[7] Bauman Z., ibidem

[8] Hartog F., Régimes d’historicité. Présentisme et expériences du temps, Paris, Seuil/La librairie du XXIe siècle, 2003

[9] Sagot-Duvouroux J.L., « Le nous manquant » in Banlieue, lendemains de révolte, La dispute, 2006

[10] C’est aussi autour des villes de Barcelone et Saint-Denis, avec l’appui de Porto Alegre notamment, qu’a été impulsée la rédaction d’une Charte européenne des droits de l’homme dans la ville. L’idée a été concrétisée le 18 mai 2000, à Saint-Denis. Ce texte, qui n’a bien sûr aucune valeur juridique mais qui engage ses signataires, pose les base d’une nouvelle citoyenneté urbaine disjointe de sa définition nationale. L’article 1 annonce en effet que « la ville est un espace collectif appartenant à tous les habitants » et qu’en conséquences « les droits énoncés dans cette Charte sont reconnus à toutes les personnes vivant dans les villes signataires, indépendamment de leur nationalité. Elles sont désignées ci-après comme citoyens et citoyennes des villes »

[11] Antonietta Marrucchelli, Ce que les migrants pensent des frontières, mémoire de maîtrise, Paris 8, 2004.

~ par Alain Bertho sur 7 mars 2007.

 
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