Imagined globalization (reviewed by Dustin Welch García)

Dustin Welch García, Book Review of Imagined Globalization, AmeriQuests 12.1 (2015). Nestor García Canclini. 2014. Imagined Globalization, trans. G. Yúdice. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Pages: 242. Paperback: $24.95 ISBN: 978-0-8223-5461-1

The recent English translation and publication of Nestor García Canclini’s Imagined Globalization, which first appeared in Spanish in 1999, offers a nuanced examination of globalization that is relevant despite its relatively late English-language arrival. Contrasting with mainstream academic views that have focused heavily on the economic processes of globalization, García Canclini utilizes art, culture, literature and audiovisual platforms as imaginative exploratory tools to analyze the evolving relationship between Latin America, the United States and Europe. His book shows that globalization simultaneously is and is not what it claims to be, as its effects are largely limited to the integration of select countries and their elites, while remaining a far off reality for most of the world’s population.

The introduction by George Yúdice places García Canclini’s work in intellectual and literary context; Yúdice cues the reader in on García Canclini’s background as a philosopher and anthropologist, as well as his socioeconomically oriented approach to literature, art and audiovisual media, which provides rationale for the author’s use of narrative and metaphor in this work. The author’s footnotes all through the book are helpful in updating the reader on the important changes that have occurred since the book was first published.

García Canclini goes to great lengths throughout his book to illustrate how the notion of a bright economic future brought about by globalization, as it is frequently understood, is precarious and fails to account for the importance of how cultural products and language imbue meaning and continuity into the social relations we hold dearly. In doing so, the author repeatedly rejects the tension between the ‘defense of identity’ and ‘globalization,’ but rather asserts that we must to learn the benefits of understanding of how we can act and be in relation to other groups, engage with heterogeneity, inequality and difference. The author describes globalization in a way that recognizes its structurally fragmented nature and the inherent difficulty in offering a unified explanation of a multi-dimensional process, saying that it is “…a collection of processes of homogenization and, at the same time, an articulated fragmentation of the world that reorders differences and inequalities without eradicating them” (25). He urges the reader to consider that globalization should not merely be seen as a series of economic operations and faceless transactions, but to see the fundamentally human foundation in this process and also, to recognize the “dramatic rifts endured by people who do not live where they are born” (41).

Demonstrating the continued relevance of his work, García Canclini discusses how interculturality is more prevalent through media communication than through in-person migration. It is quite easy for goods, communication and financial investment to pass from country to country and thus, globalization is thus more easily imagined for its market-friendliness than it is for its human-oriented element. As the author quite rightly puts it, we have transitioned from “enlightened modernity to neoliberal modernity” (51). Despite discussions about the integration of Latin America with Europe, more than at any other time in their history, interculturality comes a distant second to the demands of the market.

Perhaps where García Canclini’s argument is most deft is in his consideration of art, literature and other audiovisual media and related platforms and how they are conceived of within the processes of globalization. The author keys in on the tensions between producers and distributors of more traditional forms of art and culture and the commercial firms that dominate the field symbolically; a public arena that is geared towards traditional cultural expressions and the multi-national conglomerates that hold sway over much of the communication processes. He makes the case that recent advances in technology, coupled with large economic investments driving mega art projects, music, TV and movies, have allowed little room for experimenting into arenas that do not lead to large profits. The author highlights the pressures that results from attempts to play by market rules, which only augments the asymmetries between producers and consumers of content, urban centers and rural peripheries; and despite a newfound emphasis on cultural diversity, the range of entertainment produced is always constrained by the drive for market expansion. His greatest concern is not that the growth and prominence of cultural industries in the age of globalization may standardize and make uniform the world’s diversity, but rather that it will lead to “the institutionalization of innovation, criticism and uncertainty” (136).

In the book’s last chapter, García Canclini reiterates his main argument, discussing the patchy and unbalanced distribution of the effects of globalization. García Canclini frames the “dual agenda of globalization,” (152) where worldwide financial systems and mass communication grow amid evermore unified markets and lowered political discrepancies, all the while, they work to reorder and reshuffle the unequal distribution of wealth and resources while not actually eliminating these unjust circumstances. The book closes with an epilogue, an interview that takes place in the fall of 2011 between the author and Toby Miller, which provides the reader García Canclini’s reflections on the events that have taken place since the book’s initial publication, as well as more current developments such as the rise of Asia, recent trends in reverse migration, the Occupy Wall street movement, Arab Spring, the Chilean student movement and the emerging rejection of globalization.

The strongest attribute of García Canclini’s work is found in his approach that decenters the long-standing Euro-American focus on globalization, while adding great nuance to debates that have long been characterized by social scientists who have either celebrated the grand accomplishments of globalization or crafted sweeping narratives of the suffering and violence wrought by globalization’s multiculturality. García Canclini creatively marshals autoethnographies,fictional scenarios, metaphors and cultural theorizing to compel the reader to consider global horizons broader than those imagined and channeled by the United States’ and Europe’s anthropological purview.

Dustin Welch García
University of Washington

Very well. I will finally read the book.


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Filed under Primary texts, Theories, Theories Bibliography

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