April 7, 2009
Our research will be divided into two main parts: drawing general theoretical background regarding such issues as cultural globalization, democratization and socioeconomic modernization, and a case study on Nepal excluding the geopolitical ambitions or propensities of neighboring countries. With regards to an interdisciplinary character of the study, our main goal will be an analysis of symbolic power structures on a global scale. We will try to show negative effects of cultural globalization on Nepali sociopolitical structure.
It might be noteworthy to mention the epistemological background on which the consequent presumptions will be constructed. By ignoring such foundationalist dichotomies, as Marxist dialectics or opposite idealistic bias, the main attention will be concentrated on the shared meanings and structural dispositions of power, regardless of a pseudo objective world. By taking into consideration these premises, seemingly more space will be added to the discourse of cultural globalization, which broadens the milieu of judgment about identity formations. Considering those theoretical premises, we will seek to overcome a daunting gridlock: an analysis of the Asian societies without taking into account global perspectives and various levels of cultural interplay.
In order to avoid the problem of confusing concepts, some of them will be explained briefly throughout the essay. As “cultural globalization” implies that it has specific sphere of research, at first the term “culture” needs to be emotionally uncharged and defined. We use the term in its conventional sense: “the beliefs, values and lifestyles of people in their everyday existence. “ (Berger 2)
Global power dispositions that constitute the process of globalization and spread of prevailing values across the globe contain certain hierarchies that can be defined by the term “prestige.” The widespread use of the English language can be seen as one of the important reflections of current power arrangements. It became lingua franca not for the preponderant value of American or Anglo-Saxon culture, but because of the structural position those two countries, and particularly, the United States occupies in the modern World. The term “Davos Culture” was coined to refer to those new elites who are scattered all around the world and try to acquire certain, homogeneous type of “habitus” in order to get to the famous economic summit or other events of the same political level. Peter Berger calls them “yuppie internationals” and emphasized the role the American intelligentsia in the formation of their images. He calls it “faculty club culture.” This kind of globalization is carried out by various kinds of agencies: academic networks, foundations, non-governmental organizations, governmental and intergovernmental organizations and multinational corporations. Their agenda is created by the Western (mostly American) intellectuals and it includes: environmental issues, feminism, human rights, multiculturalism, etc. (Berger 3-4)
There is a substantial difference between the nature of economic and cultural globalizations. The problem is that the former is becoming more decentralized, while the latter still continues to be dominated by the Western cultural or intellectual products. Americans are especially blamed for modern-day “civilizing missions” as they are most actively engaged in spreading American values, by traveling and creating the network of other “globalizers” by not losing their identity (constructing ‘ivory castles’ around themselves). Sometimes they are genuinely surprised when reactions towards them are hostile. (Berger 6)
There are various ways by which the local cultures respond to the pervasive trends of globalization. These efforts range from the complete isolation to what social scientists call “localization.” Some scholars even speak about “alternative globalizations,” that stem from outside the Western World and have effects on the latter. There is also notable trend of “subglobalization” which involves regional actors spreading global values. Thus, India can have profound cultural impact on surrounding countries, like Nepal, in terms of the popular culture and “global” cultural preferences. (Berger 10-14)
Various interpretations of modernity seek to cut their ties with the West, and transform public discourse in new, favorable conditions. Besides, the West is not homogeneous entity and it helps controversial ideas get new forms and meanings. More serious problem is related to the economic background of cultural globalization as it deteriorates traditional economic structures and raises anti-Western sentiment among lower classes. (Berger 15-16)
Globalization is not operating in a power vacuum. Even not taking into account such social formations and “qualities” as localities and neighborhoods, there is an empowering institution which seeks control over certain territories. Those actors are nation-states that face fundamental problems in a new world. Arjun Appadurai speaks about three main dimensions of the struggle of nation-states: 1) increased effort to control the population and under the sign of its forms of allegiance and affiliation; 2) the growing disjuncture between territories and collective social movements; 3) the erosion of the spatial and virtual neighborhoods, due to electronic means of communication. (Appadurai 189)
The nation-state is a project of modernity. It controls neighborhoods and creates its own form of local culture. There is a need in the nation-states to police neighborhoods due to the increased volatility of modernity itself. But media technologies created new ways to transcend the boundaries of the nation-state and function on regional or global level. (Appadurai, 191-194)
Aforementioned class of global intelligentsia can be considered as products of this disjuncture between virtual and actual neighborhoods. But the problem is that, according to Appadurai, it creates the gap between educated high class and common locals. (Appadurai 197-198)
Nation-states, as we seen, are not passive actors in this process. They create policies how to control the neighborhoods and strengthen national identities. Strategies that countries use in pursuit of these goals include:
1) Preserving and protecting national and local cultures. States enhance their efforts to strengthen traditional culture by various means, like administrative management and funding.
2) Resisting global culture.
3) Globalizing national and local cultures. Countries try to prepare their cultures for global markets. This phenomenon is called “glocazition.” (Crane 12-17)
Before starting to analyze the sociopolitical landscape of Nepal, it will be helpful if we draw a larger, regional context of the political developments and pitfalls of democratization.
Democratization is a complex process, but one of the indispensable attributes of it, liberalism is intrinsically tied to Western perceptions. It comprises all pertinent liberal values, including civil liberties, potent political parties and developed civil society. Globalization contributed to the spread of civil NGOs and the rise of new international organizations, which are concerned with such issues as human rights, environment, etc. (Case, 77-82)
Authoritative governments appeal to so called “Asian Values” to defend their positions and in this process, they manage to demonize the West. Such attempts lead to the perceptions of collectivist Asian values and their persistence in the global era. (Case, 105-107)
Another interesting observation is made by juxtaposing socialism in Fukuyama’s sense and emerging AV (“Asian Values”) discourse. Socialism is anti-capitalist and anti-liberal, whereas AV is economic pro-capitalist, while ideologically anti-liberal. (Chua Beng Huat, 113)
Sociopolitical Modernization and effects of Cultural Globalization in Nepal
Before examining an impact of current cultural or political forces on Nepal, it will be appropriate to provide some historical background. Apparently, Nepal’s history throughout the twentieth century is fraught with various modern implications and influences. We will mainly focus on developments on Nepal’s political landscape since 1990.
The second half of the twentieth century in Nepal starts with an interesting democratic experiment. In 1958 several parties came to demand elections from the King. As a result of the approved elections, Nepalese Congress was elected and B.P. Koirala became the first prime minister of the country. The king prevailed over the parliament in 1960 and he managed to disband political parties and democratic institutions. The king proposed new system of mass participation and inclusive democracy, so called Panchayat Raj. Rashtriya Panchayat, the national assembly was the highest body in the Panchayat pyramid. Representatives were elected from lower to higher levels, until they reached the highest positions in the assembly. The Panchayat system also had system of grassroots organizations that were created to express the interests of farmers, students, workers, etc. But these organizations were alien to Nepali society and remained extremely fragile. The highest assembly was completely controlled by the king. King Mahendra died in 1972, and in 1980 his successors instated the reforms to Panchayat, which led to the creation of the party system and subsequent revolution in 1990 (Chadda, 55-59)
Another major factor that contributed to the changes in Nepalese Panchayat system was the growth of the middle class and socioeconomic transformation. The country’s social structure became more diverse, than it was decades ago. Three developments were essential in unifying the urban class into the solid opposition to the system: 1. Rapid urbanization _ Nepal had one of the highest urban growth rates in 1980s; 2. The World Bank and other financial institutions demanded an abolition of subsidies and a reduction in welfare programs that reduced the income of the urban poor; 3. The government became more corrupted amid the economic depression (Chadda, 124-125)
Sociopolitical Landscape since 1990
Some critics blame traditional rural Nepali society for the lack of the civil values. They argue that despite of the liberal slogans in the 90s patron-client relationships in the society remained intact. (Chadda 128)
In 1990 NC and a coalition of Communist parties organized prodemocracy rallies that led the king to lift the ban on political parties. An interim government drafted a constitution that vested executive power in a prime minister and cabinet responsible to Parliament but retained the monarch as head of state. (freedomhouse.org)
After years of instability, the militant Maoist party launched guerrilla war that engulfed much of the countryside. In 2001, government decision to use army against the rebels led to massive killings of an estimated 5000 people. (freedomhouse.org)
In 2005 once again dismissed the government, assumed executive powers and declared state of emergency. UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights described the issue in a meeting in Harvard University. She said that last January she had visited Nepal and met with the king. “He assured me of his internal commitment to multiparty democracy and to restraint by constitutional monarchs. … I thought at last here was an interlocutor who might be amenable to engaging in a peace process,” she continued. “For two days, I felt that the commission had been a large success. Then, two days after I left the country, he overthrew the government and put everybody in jail.” (Harvard.edu)
Nowadays, Nepalese society is divided into three main parts: Maoists, Royalists and Liberals. Some experts propose a federal model to solve the problems:
“But what people have been demanding prior to and after People’s Movement II or 2006-April Uprising is the establishment of the institutions of the secular democracy under the federal democratic republic setup. It has been clear so far that why both Hindu royalists (feudal lords) and the nationalist communists (comrades) are opposing such radical change.
Basically, the republic setup is anti Hindu feudal royalists and the federalism is anti-totalitarian nationalist communists.”(Prakash, globalpoliticians.org)
But where does the liberal model stand? And what is the correlation between liberalism and cultural globalization? Why are royalist and Maoist groups, which are both nationalists (thus, thus, willing to strengthen the nation-state) so popular in Nepalese society? Royalist groups have their roots in the feudal system. They reinforce the dominance of the high caste, Bahun Chhetri, as a part of the traditional Hindu arrangement of society (Lawoti 102-103).
Some of these questions are already addressed in the first part of the research, now we will focus on the web site of the Civil Society (liberal) movement in Nepal as a concrete example of our problems. It says, that “Our first challenge is our own socio-political and cultural mindsets. Whether we are citizens or politicians or intellectuals or professionals we are confronted with our mindsets of two hundred fifty years of feudal socio-political and cultural way of life embedded in your brain cells.” (nepalcivilsociety.org)
What are these groups, if not the member of “faculty club culture,” as Berger calls it? How do they equate social development with the Western concepts of “liberalism” and “civil liberties”? Here is one more example from their web site: “Because we are addicted to live a life by breaching each other’s liberty and right under the tread of all mighty and under values and belief of feudal tradition. As a result, we may be proud of our values and tradition of Nepali society that may be violating our own liberty and our civil rights. Therefore, our first responsibility is to self-educate ourselves to be human being to respect our own civil liberty and human rights before becoming Nepali with all our traditional values and pride; religious beliefs and superstitions.” (nepalcivilsociety.org)
Will this lead to the further demonization of the West and enhance the process of hybridization that is already on ground in Nepali politics?
Maoist groups draw their support from the lower classes that are relatively more vulnerable to the economic changes brought by globalization. Will that lead to the restoration of the traditional economics? And it is apparently clear that the nation-state in Nepal is undergoing major reforms and recalcitrant nationalist groups still persist to dominate the discourse. Is it a clear sign of the cultural globalization that tends to decentralize power, disunites virtual and actual neighborhoods, and transforms localities? Mark Liechty speaks about the effects of the cultural globalization, how prestige is associated with the West for upper class street “punks” in the street of Kathmandu (Liechty 41). Pervasive global culture transforms power dispositions within the society and creates new forms of “prestige.” Glocalization of Nepali tourist image has led to much high awareness of global culture, with an influx of large groups of tourists and development of a new infrastructure. If that was one of the means how nation-state (which was represented by the traditionalist idea of the king) responded to globalization, should we assume that the process of nationalization is becoming contradictory in itself while operating in the global arena? If authoritarianism is strengthened by the propaganda of the AV, how can liberalism oppose it on its turf of the national, traditionalist discourse? Does that mean that culture globalizations leave no space for structural transformations in the society and the gap is automatically filled by the traditionalist, hybrid ideologies? Those are open questions as we cannot predict the future, but an observation on the existing identities shows that cultural globalization creates its own autonomous discourse which tends to overlap with the “materialist” changes in the society. It gives us more incentive to ignore any materialist approach (based on Marxist ontology, for example) to the issue and operate within the scope of the symbolic power dispositions.
Nepali civil society which represents the disjuncture between spatial and virtual neighborhoods speaks in the language that might be completely unknown for those Nepali who could enjoy benefits brought by social modernization and urbanization of the society. Nation state finds it difficult to handle with the problems mentioned by Appadurai, but it opposes globalization and westernization vehemently, thus filling the gap with authoritative nationalistic discourse. With respects to this, cultural globalization appears a disruptive force for Nepali freedom seekers and civil society agents.
1. Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).
2. Berger, Peter L. “The Culture Dynamics of Globalization,” in Many Globalizations: Cultural Diversity in the Contemporary World, eds. Peter Berger and Samuel P. Huntington (New York, Oxford University Press, 2002).
3. Bom, Prakash. “Nepal Maoists’ Proposal for the Radical Change.” Global Politician, 4 November, 2008 http://www.globalpolitician.com/24479-nepal (accessed 7 April, 2009).
4. Brustman, Bob. “UN’s High Commissioner Discusses Global Rights.” Harvard University Official Website. 15 Decemeber, 2005. http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2005/12.15/13-rights.html (accessed 7 April, 2009).
5. Case, William. “Democracy in Southeast Asia: How to Get It and What Does It Matter?” in Contemporary Southeast Asia: Regional Dynamics, National Differences, ed. Mark Beeson (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
6. Chadda, Maya. Building Democracy in South Asia: India, Nepal, Pakistan (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000).
7. Chua Beng Huat, “Asian Values: Is an Anti-Authoritarian Reading Possible?” in Contemporary Southeast Asia: Regional Dynamics, National Differences, ed. Mark Beeson (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
8. Civil Society of Nepal, “Official Web Site of Civil Society of Nepal.” http://www.nepalcivilsociety.org/ (accessed 7 April, 2009).
9. Crane, Diana. “Culture and Globalization: Theoretical Models and Emerging Trends” in Global Culture: Media, Arts, Policy, and Globalization. Eds. Diana Crane, Nobuko Kawashima, Ken’ichi Kawasaki (New York: Routledge, 2002).
10. Freedom House. “2008 Country Report on Nepal.” Official Freedom House Web Site. http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=22&year=2008&country=7456 (accessed 7 April, 2009).
11. Lawoti, Mahendra . Towards a Democratic Nepal: Inclusive Political Institutions for a Multicultural Society (New Dehli: Sage Publications, 2005).
12. Liechty, Mark. “Out Here in Kathmandu: Youth and the Contradictions of Modernity in Urban Nepal”