sabato 14 ottobre 2017

Anthropology of Globalization for Global Governance #5

11 10 2017. here is the mp3. We have completed the analysis of “culture is acquired” summing up a few points of our definition. Comparison as the main tool through which to acquire awareness and reflexivity.
We moved to the second point of our general discussion: CULTURE IS SHARED. We may have special skills, like my sister who knows how to speak backwards, but that is an idiosyncratic knowledge of her, and does not really count as culture because it is not socially shared. There must be a group that has the same knowledge.
But for a reason or another we tend to OVERESTIMATE the level to which culture is really shared, and we take for granted that shared-ness is the ordinary. We tend to elaborate “spontaneously” the image of cultures as “baskets” that include all and only the members of one culture, and whose content is exclusive property of one culture at a time.
Again, “spontaneously” we tend to think cultures are separated by clear and sharp borders, and we can immediately tell who’s in and who’s out of those borders, who is “us” and who is “them”. We have just to think for a moment about this “natural” thought to admit it is not true, jet it is interesting we tend “naturally” to have it.
We do know that cultural contents may be the same in two different baskets. Many cultural elements may be present in more than one basket. That means that cultural borders are necessarily blurred.
Secondly, what is “inside” one single basket is nonetheless diverse and different. Gender, age, class, education and other inevitable social factors create internal cultural difference.
Bottom line: cultures are less clearly distinguished we may imagine at first, and definitely more articulated within themselves than we tend to think at first gaze. We have told the story of the old Roman lady of seven generations, her grandson who is a football fan and the lady from Ukraine who works as caretaker in the same Trastevere neighbourhood.

Q1. On the same vein of the Trastevere story I told you, briefly elaborate another fictive case study (or a real one of your knowledge) to demonstrate that cultures are less distant among themselves and more complex within themselves than we may prejudicially think (hint: think or your “national culture” and it should be easy to spot unexpected connections with other cultures and discover huge pockets of internal difference within your “own” culture.

But why have we elaborated a DISCOURSE (vs. ACTION) that insists so much of cultural internal uniformity and external distinction?
There are TWO SOURCES for this discourse to be so common.
1. EVERYDAY LIFE based on our natural disposition to learn. Since we are learning animals, we tend easily to store what we have learnt in “models”, or “Patterns”. We don’t want to experiment every second new sensations and we tend to funnel them in more ordinary schemes. We elaborate EXPECTATIONS, we more or less know what to expect when we begin to sip our first mug of coffee in the morning (and that is precisely why we are disgusted if we poured in salt instead of sugar, not because the taste in itself be so terrible, but most of all because it does not match our expectations). This system of ordinary expectations is at the basis of communication. We talk and reply without really thinking of the complex interaction that goes on among those who communicate. We take it as “normal”, or “standard” action (which it is, of course, but less obvious than we might expect, once we begin to analyse it) thus we tend to improperly believe that those surrounding us are more or less the same, indeed overestimating their similarities and underestimating differences when not marked by “weird” signs like skin colour, accent, or anything else clearly out-of-standard. Were we not able to elaborate standard pattern of behaviour based on expectations, we would go nuts all the time like new-born babies forced to have just and only new experiences every moment. We could not survive without stereotypes but that disposition of ours entails we normally feel at ease with those “like us”, pretending they are more like us they actually are.
2. POLITICS. Yet there is another source of reliability on the innocence of “culture is learned knowledge”. That is the fact that we all participate in the cultural milieu of the Nation State. Based on Ernest Gellner’s Nationalism and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, I have sketched a theory of the way the emergence in modern times of “natural” political entities named Nation States brings about a strong prejudice on the existence of big cohesive, coherent and homogenous groups named nations. Indeed, after the long work of NATION BUILDING, with PRINT CAPITALISM and NATIONAL EDUCATION, we may say that the nation state system has been naturalised. People find obvious and “natural” they belong to one nation and that they can divide anybody else according to their nationality. I briefly recalled that was not always the case, and in many parts of the world (like the Balkans, where I did research in the 1990s) historically people could switch national affiliation (that is culture, language, habits, even religion) while moving along the social ladder.

This system of nation state worldwide political organization started possibly with the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and was standardized after the French Revolution (1789). The difference between pre-modern and modern states relies on the way POWER is exerted. In pre-modern State power would radiate from political centres towards periphery with fading waves of control and domination.
With the emergence of the Modern Nation State system the Power was nominally transferred to The People (The Nation) and had thus to be exerted in a uniform way. If political power is now in the hands of “people”, the political system had to know who the people really are, hence the process of nation building and the cultural and linguistic homogenization of the Nation.

We have then briefly completed this short description of nationalism in affecting our perception that cultures are mode of SHARED KNOWLEDGE by describing how the economic system at the root of the modern nation state, that is CAPITALISM, must rely on constant INNOVATION (because of the COMPETITION at the heart of market economy). In order to innovate, national economies need FLEXIBLE and UNIFORM citizens, ready to move within the national borders (to catch up with innovation) and thus in need of a common cultural dowry to share across the country. Internal migrants may know the “national language” and feel almost at home everywhere in the Country because, through education and communication (the national sports, the anthem, the flag and so and so forth), they have come to feel and conceive themselves as uniform members of a national community.

Q2. Think of your specific condition and report some specific elements you have learnt that have infused in you the “natural” feeling of being a member of your national community.