Globalization and Indigenous Culture
[Table of Contents]

Globalization, Families, and Communities in Europe


1. Current Conditions

Globalization is the product of a generalized interaction between the populations forming the human race, a process which has been internalized in societies in the same way as it has within the life of the individuals composing them. It is revealed in the generalization of information and our means of exchange, within objects ranging from "blue jeans" to television. Namely, the objects we utilize on an everyday basis are now global in their dissemination. Globalization has become possible as the result of the introduction of "technological macrosystems" (MST) to systems of transportation and long-distance electronic communication; the adoption of a common language and in the introduction of generalized rules relating to the process of exchange, as a means of organizing the marketplace.

But (and this forms my thesis), this globalization, which has prompted progress in all sorts of areas (including perceptions, technologies, exchanges, the production of goods and services, populations of people, and average lifetimes), does not create uniformity, but rather produces the differentiation of inequalities. As expressed by Schumpeter, globalization has provoked "creative destruction."

There is no doubt that a certain erosion of diversity (the disappearance of languages, customs, and habits) is provoked as market demands become generalized, in the same way as they have in the case of trade, but at the same time, differences are accentuated, particularly on the level of the living standards and conditions of the various populations, and in their fertility as well.

As globalization extends to societies and communities possessing their own particularistic histories, each society and community will respond in its own unique way to the constraints of the global environment. While the global environment is shared equally everywhere and by all people, its meaning is clearly different for bankers on Wall Street and peasants in Bangladesh. Each society and community lives through the general process of globalization in different ways, within a diversity of forms which are also expressed differently in accordance with the place and the individual. The world is becoming increasingly distant from the "global village."

Globalization, which engenders economic growth and exchange --- and above all a tremendous increase in information --- brings about development in one area, while in others creating exclusion and marginalization, erasing what went before even as it creates new borders. Globalization cannot make a blank sheet of history, just as it cannot eliminate the uniqueness of place. The ability to transmit information instantaneously at low cost will not be a death-knell to the importance of locality. Globalization signals the end neither of history nor of geography.

But from the European perspective, I must point out one thing. This globalization was produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries --- especially the early part of the latter --- over a wide area, first in Europe and its "far west" represented by the United States. It depended on the values, judicial rules and terms of reference which were the products of Europe, and which spread widely around the world from the sixteenth century on with the "discoveries" frequently accompanying the conquest of the non-European world and its societies by the European powers.

History would have been different if Japan, instead of closing itself off in the manner of the seventeenth century Tokugawas, and Ch'ing China, instead of refusing to acknowledge the rest of the world, had launched out on global conquest like Europe. Both countries had the technological means to do so, but they had no plan. Both countries were sufficient "with their own world" alone.

Now, China first of all, possessed an organization, by tribute and commerce, of a "world" which was exceptionally diverse and plural, while Japan possessed close relations with China and Korea, and knew of Europe through contact with the Portuguese and Dutch. But while greater "powers" than small Europe, they had no "global plan" like those Europeans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as is also evident from the cartography of the time.

It is clear that the hypothesis of a globalization proceeding from 17th century East Asia results in very different judgments and analyses regarding the effects of Asian globalization on our societies, compared to those held in and about Europe in the late twentieth century.

As a result, with regard to that infant period of globalization in Europe, which extended from the sixteenth through the first few decades of the twentieth centuries, it is probably even more difficult in the case of other parts of the world (with the exception of that projection of Europe represented by America, where the fact is clear from the actual evolution and impact on society), to revive the unique dynamics of each society within its history, based on the existing conditions forming the product of globalization.

Contemporary globalization is made possible by the adoption of one language of communication, produced by Europe, namely, English, with its concepts, syntax, vocabulary: a convenient means for communication, but weak in the linguistic role of expressing thought and culture and by the general use of a single alphabetic script (originating in Latin), and one kind of numerical script (originating in Arabic).

Legal rules born in Europe are deployed globally; the nation and its territories, within its "European" formulation --- though simultaneously violated and modified --- continues to be the unit at the base of international institutions and international life; and values like democracy and the recognition of "human rights," even if they are meaningless within other cultures which do not possess such values, are still key reference points for elaboration of the international community.

2. The European Demographic Situation

The several conspicuous traits which indicate the totality of European populations can in fact also be found in all other world societies possessing a relatively higher than average standard of living, with the result that they represent factors in the future change and development of those societies characterized by the same traits.

Those traits include increased longevity, widespread decrease in infant mortality rate, and a reduced birthrate. The average longevity now exceeds seventy-five (as in Japan, French women now have an average longevity exceeding eighty). At mid-point in the twentieth century, areas which continued to have a high birthrate continued to be the southern end of Mediterranean peninsulas (southern Italy and Andalusia), but Europe has recorded its record low birthrates (between 1.2 and 1.3). But, for example, as in Quebec, places with historically high rates of birth are now at a very low rate, and the same can be seen in places like Taiwan and Singapore. On the other hand, Sweden for a long period recorded Europe's lowest birthrate, but it is now rebounding and has reached 1.9.

Lengthening longevity and lowered birthrates inevitably, and almost "mechanically" their societies and the families composing them. Lengthening of the period of education and longer periods of retired life likewise heighten the economic burdens of retirement, and paying detailed attention to health is accompanied by very high outlays for education. Such changes necessitate profound modifications in the form of economic redistribution and in the purpose of savings, as well as modifications in life-behavior attitudes as forms of solidarity.

3. Institutions and Communities in Transformation

A. The Family

It is true that the family continues to be a basic institution in Europe. Some eighty-nine percent of Europeans live with other family members, that is, either with parents, or with children. But, admitting that there are various rates of distribution depending on the country, everywhere one sees the increase in the birth of children outside wedlock, and the formation of "de facto" families ("unions without documents"). And as the result of separations --- either formal divorce or de facto separation --- new forms of marriage are appearing, resulting in an increase in families involving a complex web or relationships, thus forming what are called "recomposed families." In France, they have to do with one-third of the populace. At the same time, the number of single-parent families is rising, and in western Europe, they compose 17.3% of families with children. Young people and singles represent 30-40% of all homes in the Scandinavian countries, the highest rate in Europe.

The institutional community forming the population and gives it its framework no longer functions as it did in the first few decades of this century.

B. Schools

Schools --- elementary schools in particular --- which had a decisive role in the formation of the French Republic, can be called obligatory points of passage for social promotion, and were one element in the homogenization of French youths, and the resulting remarkable diminishment of regional variations. Schools became one of the great reasons for the decline of regional dialects and speech. But by teaching reading and writing, the schools were also an institution which facilitated the passage from the country to city life at the time of rural exodus.

Schools found general diffusion in French society, and while considerably prolonging the period of compulsory education to the age of sixteen, and with the continuing purpose of allowing eighty percent of French youths to pass their baccalauréat (equivalent to the completion of secondary education), the areas of study dealt with expanded broadly, with far more youths studying for longer periods, and the schools became far more diversified, with the introduction of specialized and selective courses. Schools became "commonplace," and the prestige attendant upon being a student was diluted with the production of masses of instructors.

Schools are always the central place of education. While being accepted in varying degrees depending on the youths involved, they continue to be one of the main mechanisms for integrating young people --- particularly those of foreign origin --- into society. Sometimes teachers are resented for the difficulty of classes, and sometimes the instructors themselves are deficient, making it a difficult and unpleasant experience, but even with these difficulties, it is impossible to conceal the integrating role of the school, even if education in everyday life sometimes comes on the street, just as television may be ranked higher among the "media."

It is clear that in Europe, from Russia to France, even admitting the diversity in national conditions, schools continue to be irreplaceable means of education and socialization.

C. The Military and Patriotism

An army, with a system of obligatory military service, was one institution of initiation for transforming young men into adults. The army also had an integrating function for young men. The military forged sentiments of national belonging, and it played the effective role of preparing people for national defense and warfare. While becoming more professional, the military reduced its active members, with the result that the period of obligatory service was shortened; as it changed in various ways, it became more "civilized," and it is finally disappearing, as in Great Britain. The military has become an issue for "specialists." In France at the end of this century, the military is a place of training, a place of unequal abilities, but it has particularly been an "institution of transition" for unfortunate youths of all classes during two historic periods of unemployment.

In addition, one can indicate a decline in national pride, a motive force for national solidarity and defense of the homeland during various European wars, particularly since the nineteenth century. From 1970 to 1990, a decline in national pride has been measured everywhere such surveys have been taken. For example, in Italy it has declined from 62% to 45%, in France from 66% to 42%, in the Netherlands from 54% to 34%, in Belgium from 70% to 26%, in Germany from 38% to 20%. And the proportion of people who indicate a willingness to "die for their country" is even lower. But at the same time, the "homeland" also no longer appears in the way that it did in the past when national borders were directly threatened.

Values and grand causes change, and currently, with the exception of Great Britain, Denmark, and Greece, the concept of a European Union remains popular, transcending political crises --- even while lacking precise clarity in its contents and consequences. For young people to combat world misery and to fight for environmental protection is, from the local level to the global, an extension of defense of the homeland. The causes and values for which European young people are prepared to mobilize are relevant either to the "local" defense of an endangered environment and young people's solidarity, or else to "global" defense as seen in the fight against world famine.

D. Church and Belief

France is a republic and a secular state, with mentality and customs largely informed by Christian culture in much the same way as for other European nations. "Modernity," however, has appeared in the form of a separation from the material and spiritual regions of Christianity. The Christian church is likely facing crisis everywhere in Europe, with perhaps the exception of the Eastern European countries under the Orthodox Church. The crisis can be seen in vocation and practice (less than ten percent of French Catholics attend mass regularly), and of a diminution of the political weight and social influence of the Catholic church in Poland. The local parish coincided with the basic community of residence, as seen in the village or urban wards, and it was a place for community life strengthened by a common faith. The local parish is one local structure which has steadily declined. This decline results from two differing but complementary reasons. First, the church and its own apparatus has frequently engaged unbelieving youth from unbelieving families in formal participation in various religious rituals (baptism and funerals), with the result that it has virtually lost its leadership. The long history of Europe, viewed in part or in whole, has been a process of shift from rural to urban as the farming populace has flowed into the cities, a shift from the status of farmer to the status of laborer-and in more general terms, to the status of citizen. But at the same time, the crisis of the parish is also a "local crisis."

E. Unions and Social Movements

France is relatively exceptional within Europe in the sense that participation in labor unions is not very active (less than ten percent of all wage earners are union members, while fifty percent or perhaps more of German workers are members of unions). At the same time, with the exception of Germany, where labor unions are integrated in their economic and social negotiations with companies or industrial sectors, unions from Italy and France as far west as England are losing their ability to lead wage earners, provide continuing education, and to contest economic power. Labor unions have had to respond to two structural developments: a diminution in the number of laborers with its increasing unemployment, and the rise in informal labor activity. The unions did not contemplate a condition in which one part of the population would be marginalized as the result of unemployment and exclusion. Their capacity to mobilize remains strong, though transient, with their "coordination" of demonstrations, although they do not possess lasting power. Even so, one must remember that the corporation, which organizes the life of professionals, and simultaneously forms the place for workers' employment and sociability, has lost its social and affective value as the result of increasing employment instability and rising unemployment.

In this context, it is clear that the various political, social, military and religious framework structures are undergoing decline, and these contribute to local crisis.

F. Local Crisis

For several centuries, the "local" was the place of life for the vast majority of people living in farming villages, and for most of their productive activities. This "local" space was reinforced by four integrated functions which gave communal life its foundation: residence, work, production/consumption, and social life, namely the place of social gatherings, church, sanctuary, and the festivals with their annual rhythm. But in western Europe, this space is now dead.

"Rural spaces" retain none of their characteristics except the countryside scenery. The forms of life and consumption are not much different from those found in the city. The same can be said for social composition by occupation. Persons occupied with farming are a small minority everywhere, even within the "farming village population" (frequently less then ten percent). The following example shows that the "place of residence" can be recomposed by placing in proximity individuals and families who respond to differing territorial logics and who possess trajectories of life having virtually nothing in common.

In a village to the north of Paris, within a 200 meter square area live a pilot for Air France, a manager for a small factory making faucets for a construction company in the Paris area, a retired man from a railroad company who receives supplemental earning by tending the aforementioned two men's gardens, and a farmer with 400 hectares of land who raises wheat and beets, and who thus depends on the European Union's Political Agricultural Commune (PAC) and the global price of wheat; not far from him is a small-scale apartment complex where a Moroccan lives-an employee of a janitorial company for Roissy Airport-together with his sons, aged eighteen and twenty-two, who are currently unemployed. These half-dozen people live in the same village, while belonging to vastly different territories. Certainly, they are beneficiaries of the same urban lighting system and the same urban transportation network, and probably shop at the same stores (large-scale retailers), and pay local taxes to the same local governmental jurisdictions. And this is the entirety of what they hold in common.

It is clear that the "internalization of globalization" occurs differently in these six individuals, and intervenes in their lives in greatly differing ways. For the pilot of Air France, who sits astride the world, his future depends on the management competency of oligopolistic competition between the major airline companies; for the factory manager, it depends on whether the construction industry experiences economic growth or not, which hinges on economic fluctuations and bank interest rates --- namely, on the overall economic situation. The future of the farmer depends not only on the effect of PAC, but simultaneously on the conditions of the national stock of grain and its market. For the Moroccan employee, his future depends not only on specific employment policies, but more particularly on the contracts linking his company to the Roissy airport. Needless to say, while all of these people probably watch the same evening news programs on television, they probably don't read the same newspapers. And they may all possess "blue jeans," but the Air France pilot and the unemployed youth likely don't wear them the same way. Neighbors are no longer related to the same community of interest, they themselves do not try to create rapport between themselves, and even if they did, the relation would probably be no more than one of conflict over issues like noise, smells, and lifestyle.

But if there must be a "global village" (and I personally doubt it), in that case the global village would probably at every level demonstrate the same spatial heterogeneity, and the same strong economic and cultural differences which are observable in this little village of Île-de- France!

G. Intricate Networks and Territory-less Groups

Groups and forms for social interaction are organized on a principle other than belonging to a fixed territory. Such groups' functional base rests on networks. The term "network" is used here in two senses: material networks (infrastructures of transportation and communication, for example, a telephone network), and the networks formed between individuals who belong to a common community of interest or affinity. The same individual may, depending on the exigencies of his life, belong to multiple networks, each of which possesses its own place and points of reference: for example, networks of family and friends, occupational networks based on the company, and cultural or religious networks. The various relationships between these places are formed by the utilization of "commonplace" communication networks and long-distant telecommunications.

H. Communities Reconstituted: in Ghettos

Minority groups (a function of national origin and religion), or those which believe themselves to be persecuted, constrict the linkages and ties among themselves, and tend toward an organization based on territory, and it is this largely classical process of "concentration-exclusion-expulsion" which creates the "ghettos." For example, in France, one has the example of immigrant laborers from Africa and their descendants, while in Germany there is the example of the Turks.

In France, during this past century, the successive waves of immigration have almost always for a time formed isolated ethnic groupings, and they have frequently been subjected to xenophobic prejudice at the phase preceding their integration. Examples include the minority Poles in northern France and the Lorraine, and the Italians in the Lorraine steel mills or the countryside of Gers. The descendants of these immigrants now possess "complete French citizenship rights."

Immigrants from Africa present problems of a bit different nature. Namely, there is the problem that the majority are members of Islam, a religion characterized by universalism and conquest, and occasionally the problem of the color of their skin. Mosques, simple and poorly built, and television programs received thanks to satellite broadcasts, help to maintain and strengthen their affiliation in their original culture. Religious solidarity aids them in facing the difficulties of everyday life, and thus avoid urban alienation. In this way, communities of foreign origin are reconstituted, in most cases forming territorial enclaves like the Porte de Choisy in Paris for Chinese of Vietnamese origin, and African enclave in Clichy.

Educational problems frequently occur at the schools where this kind of immigrant population forms the majority, and "ethnic" tensions often arise between immigrant groups, just as between them and local inhabitants who call themselves "pure French."

The social marginality associated with age groups of adolescents belonging to families in difficult situations, who live in an ambiance marked by unemployment, for whom the school is no more an entryway to employment than a promise of heightened social status, favors the phenomenon of "gangs." These gangs often commit various kinds of delinquency, including theft, the traffic in and consumption of drugs, and vandalism of private and public property; and they find belonging by adopting a territory, which they protect from intrusion by other gangs and the police. Sometimes, such gangs create their own language with its own vocabulary. In contemporary France, there is a "suburban language." In this way, one can observe an "ethnogenesis" produced from conditions of marginality, though it is likely but a fleeting phenomenon.

4. But, these Spaces Clearly Affirm Themselves, and Maintain their Own Customs

A. The Region Against the State

In parallel to a certain weakening of the national states making up a European Union with uncertain future, the territorial collectivities, both regional and urban, of those states are simultaneously insisting on the possibility of their own autonomy of decision with respect to the states to which they belong. Examples include Catalonia and the Basque territory in Spain, the cities of Lombardy in Italy, and the Bavarian region in Germany. The great cities of Europe attempt to stand up against the national states, protesting against national sovereignty and against the lowering of prices in border regions at the direction of the European Union. But such regions do not represent the entirety of Europe, nor do they share many common denominators.

B. The Persistence of Cultural Customs and Regional Cuisine

If the products produced in the French agricultural sector and sold at "large-scale retailers" favor homogenized consumption, one can also note the preservation of local regional culinary customs. A publication issued by CREDOC (Center for the Study and Observation of Conditions of Life) in November, 1995, indicated that France could be subdivided into ten geographical areas based on culinary regionalism. While butter is always used for cooking in northern France, oil is used in southern France. In the southwestern sector, people continue to eat bread and chicken, while in the Picardie region of north France, they are fond of potatoes, beer, and delicatessen products. The identity relating to culinary habits is maintained, and the large-scale retailers are adapting themselves to that fact.

5. Conclusion

In Europe, in the same way as for other parts of the world, globalization has contributed to confusion in the existing maps. The various nations have acceded their special privileges to the European Union, and their legal systems must now be harmonized with the directives of Brussels. Like other places in the world, the European nations are thus being eclipsed, "debordered" from above by the trans-nationalization of finance, multinational corporations and the flow of information, and by the "unofficial" from below. The state also occasionally is subject to protests from the "regions" regarding the role played by its citizens. On an even finer scale, centers of great networks of knowledge, information, finance, and business may lie side by side with areas where marginalization and exclusion have produced zones into which the nation's activity and its public services reach but poorly. The discrimination of farming village and urban city is in many respects becoming thinner. The "local" is increasingly a place for the intersection of networks belonging to spaces different from those places of social coherence and efficient decentralized management.

Former "cultural" unity continues while undergoing transformation, and occasionally a new identity surges out; religion is sometimes less successful at unifying people --- the Christian church is a case in point --- while Islam is sometimes more successful for members of certain minorities. But one thing is certain: namely, that "globaliza-tion" --- in spite of its turbulent growth, its impulsions and expulsions --- is not creating uniformity. Globalization results in the appearance of new differences which contribute to changing behavior. Within their internal evolution, the great cultural traits will contribute to differentiating populations. For example, Bavaria will continue to be different from Prussia, and Catalonia will continue to differ from Astorius. Also, a multinational corporation from Germany is not managed the same as its French counterpart, and London is not, in its practices and traditions, a financial market comparable to Frankfurt. Even such centers of financial globalization maintain their differences.

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$Date: 2001/05/15 05:58:52 $