Globalization and Nationalism in U.S Essay

Globalization and Nationalism in U.S

Globalization is a comprehensive transformation which has only recently gathered full momentum. It occurs when the individual actor has the chance to act with reference to other people wherever they might be located on the globe and takes the globe as a meaningful frame of reference. For this to happen a whole range of economic, technological, political and cultural interactive effects have to be fulfilled. Globalization is the inscription of these in social relations.

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We are then talking specifically about a social transformation. Changing interplays between nationalism, politics, technology and the economy take place through new forms of social relations. This is why globalization means changes in basic sociological concepts as research strives to keep pace with the changing world. In this transformation the space and the materiality of the globe as a whole is now a real factor represented in new forms of social organization.

Clearly a comprehensive review of changes in sociological concepts under the impact of globalization extends far beyond the confines just nationalism and other political issues. Recent writing on globalization has asserted that it has a profound impact on social life. Equally it claims a key place for the concept in the social sciences. Taking those ideas together, we propose that globalization amounts to more than just another sociological field. We examine three specific cases to show that it exercises a transformative influence on sociological concepts generally.

That ‘continuing tension’ is still defined by relation with a dominant culture. But the other two notions Frow mentions potentially escape this context. They are the development of the market and of modern media technology which partake of the creative, potentially disruptive connotations of the old notion of culture. Linked with the idea of the active initiatives of ordinary people, culture takes on an unbounded quality, in which however, media, rather than essence, shapes the object of intellectual interest. The way is open for new, non-integrative formulations of the idea of culture. We have an example in Thompson’s Ideology and Modern Culture (1990,p. 123).

By recognizing the mobility of symbolic forms Thompson has started to articulate a critique of the integration myth. This has involved the disaggregation of the older concept of culture into its analytical components. Effectively Thompson is reducing the meaning of ‘culture’ to an empty label since it adds nothing to an analysis which is conducted in terms of the ideas of meaning, symbolism, symbolic form, and their relations to the social contexts in which meaning is encountered, produced, consumed and so on.

At the same time Thompson recognizes that such an analysis must be seen in relation to the history of the production and circulation of symbolic forms, by now a global operation (pp. 198-203; 260). This disaggregation of the concept of culture means its elements can be separable components in a (commercialized) media production process on a world scale.

For Robertson the discussion of globalization ‘touches just about every aspect of academic disciplines’ (2002,p. 9). For Giddens the term ‘must have a key position in the lexicon of the social sciences’ (1990,p. 52) Robertson interprets the concept as referring ‘both to the compression of the world and the intensification of awareness of the world as a whole’ (2002,p. 8). Giddens defines it as ‘the intensification of worldwide social relations’ (1990,p. 64). Both agree that it entails a refocusing of sociological work.

The reasons they argue for this are similar. They both provide a historical dimension to show the reflexivity of globalization. The local and the global interact over time to transform social relations. Robertson writes of ‘the global field’, in which societies, selves and citizenship are relativized. Giddens has dialectic of global and local conducted through new trust generating abstract systems.

The implication is that sociologists need new ways of talking and writing about the world because it has changed. Concepts which reflected an older order, such as society, class, state, all suffer strain. Giddens notes the difficulty equating society with the nation state (1990,p. 64). Robertson sees globalization stimulating a search for fundamentals underpinning these shifting phenomena (2002,pp. 174-177).

They are not alone in finding older concepts inadequate. For instance skepticism about the usefulness of ‘society’ has been expressed by Bauman (2002,p. 57). Clark and Lipset (1991) breathed life into old arguments by suggesting that the concept of class had lost explanatory relevance under new conditions.

But Giddens and Robertson offer more than deconstruction. They each in effect suggest a holistic theory of social change in which conceptual transformation is inherent, although there are striking points of difference between them. Giddens’ (1990) globalization is the culmination of modernity where technological developments permit social relationships to be conducted at a distance (disembedding). This leads him to emphasize changes in personal consciousness and ideas of self (Giddens, 1991, 2002).

“Robertson calls that ‘homogenized “modern man” injected with a special dose of phenomenological reflexivity”’ (2002,p. 145). By contrast he emphasizes the practical consciousness involved in globality and the impact that this has on global order. He pursues a culturalist critique of Wallerstein’s (1974) world-system theory and, despite allusions to ‘compression’, accords scant significance to technology in general or communication technology in particular.

To a degree their theories of social change explain why Giddens and Robertson do not pursue the idea of conceptual transformation very far. They tend towards a one-sided historicism: a vision of a relentless pressure, over centuries, exerted by modernity (Giddens) or globality (Robertson) to change society, with the social losing autonomy in the process. But how does one then capture the sense of dramatically faster recent change marked by the emergence of the idea of globalization? How does one register the social innovativeness which often prompts technological and cultural change.

The shift to seeing the imagined community (Anderson, 1986) as the guiding principle for lived social relations represents an important step toward the disembedding of community for it opens the possibility of representing the absent and distant as being integral to the local. At the same time the process of globalization, if acknowledged at all by those concerned with community, is usually understood as having only limited relevance to the communities studied and, where relevant, leading to the homogenization of culture (Albrow, 1993). In adopting such a suspicious or limited view of globalization the discussion of changes taking place within Britain and other Western nations fails to appreciate the manifold ways in which the orderings and imaginings of community are determined by not only more global levels (metropolitan, national and international) but by globalization as a process sui generis.

As we have earlier noted, Giddens has emphasized the ways by which modem technology enables people to maintain social relationships across the globe (disembedding) and the implications of this process for the maintenance of national boundaries and loyalties. While accepting that the concept of disembedding is illuminating in the specific context of ‘symbolic tokens’ and ‘expert systems’ Robertson notes that Giddens neglects ‘the fact that social and cultural differentiation and the tensions and conflicts often occasioned by such, including “fundamentalistic” attempts to dedifferentiate sociocultural systems, have been pivotal circumstances of recent world history’ (Robertson, 2002, p. 144).

The construction of ‘community’ in a particular neighborhood, hence, cannot be examined on the assumption that the local is prior, primordial, and more ‘real’.

Local solidarities and imaginings may also be produced by global processes–a process which is most dramatically illustrated in the lives of migrant workers and their descendants but includes others within the nation-state. Second generation Bangladeshis in the ‘East End’ of London, for instance, engage in lively, diverse commentaries on belonging which range across numerous boundaries of space and time (Eade, 1989, 1990, 1994). Their sense of being British/Bengali/ Bangladeshi/Muslim is informed by the links they maintain with others across the UK, other Western countries, their country of origin, other territories and co-religionists (Eade, 1990; Gardner, 1993). Their his/her stories of where they have come from engage dynamically with interpretations of their present situation in East London. The knowledge which is used in these constructions of belonging is produced and transmitted through telephone conversations, religious ceremonies, newspaper accounts, television and radio programs, videos mad music recordings through a global network of social and technological linkages. Visits to friends and relatives, interaction with colleagues at work and other forms of ‘community’ involvement employ this global network to produce ‘locality’. Their productivity runs parallel with the activity of other ‘locals’ such as ‘white’ residents whose narratives of the past and present may exclude them as ‘foreigners’ in some instances but which also draw on global networks to establish the knowledge of who belongs to the locality and the nation.

To understand the community, hence, a break has to be built with an intellectual tradition which was formed by our 19th century forebears and which linked community with a vanishing world of traditional solidarities and respects. The current ignorance or suspicion of debates concerning globalization among those who undertake detailed studies of ethnic minorities in Britain, for example, parallels those earlier celebrations of community in opposition to modern society. At the same time the shift in the focus of community studies to the abstract, imagined community requires more careful attention to the issue of disembedding in particular than the discussion of diasporic communities, hybridity and ‘new ethnicities’ has so far allowed. At the same time the analysis of globalization needs to be located in a deeper empirical investigation of specific situations–one of the undoubted strengths of local community studies and ethnic minority group reports.

“Community is in the process of being disembedded, therefore, to the extent that we identify its reconstitution on a non-local, non-spatially bounded basis. The potential was already there in the early formulations of Toennies”, but those attributes of community were persistently referred back to the bounded locality. In large part this was because community was idealized and associated with a disappearing past which was represented as more clearly delimited and where people knew where they stood. “It was a potent myth to reinforce efforts to shape the ever changing contemporary reality, to stabilize the state, contain disorder and limit the consequences of seemingly uncheckable forces of modernity. As such it was intimately connected with the myth of cultural integration”. (Mikel Otazu, 2000)

Culture: from integration to disintegration

Globalization or globalizing practices involve, but are not simply reducible to, changes in social and material existences of the modern world such that new connections between places are forged and the world as a whole is articulated as, the appropriate arena in which to pursue marketing, intellectual, environmental and other practices (these include life-planning practices; Giddens, 1991, pp. 5-6; 147-148). There are pro7found implications for the notion of culture. Robertson (2002,pp. 33; 46) is quite correct to see the revival of interest in culture (Gilmore, 2002, p. 404) as an aspect itself of globalization.

Featherstone in his introduction to the collection Global Culture (1990) speculates about the possibility of a global culture, the existence of ‘third cultures’, and trans-societal cultural processes, all of which challenge lazy associations of culture and national identity, and simple associations of culture and territoriality although question of globality is not really dealt with. Globalizing processes have raised to the forefront of our thought experiences of borders, ‘multiculturalism’ within a ‘locality’, and hybrids as products of post-coloniality (Gupta and Ferguson, 2002, pp. 7-8). The language of ‘culture’ is reflexively involved in the construction of these identities and new hybrid forms (Hannerz, 2002, p. 43).

The same kind of emphasis on boundedness and coherence traditionally dominated the sociological treatment of the idea of culture, even though this was potentially, and indeed has become, the idea through which the transitory nature of social arrangements can most easily be represented. Indeed ‘culture’ has become something of a watchword for those who document the decline of recognizable social entities and the disintegration of society itself.

The source of the shift in sociological interpretation of culture can be found in the inherent tension which was at the heart of Raymond Williams’ project, namely … to reconcile the meanings of culture as “creative activity” and “a whole way of life”. In the functionalist paradigm of sociology ‘the way of fife’ tracked the course of community and became its ideal counterpart.

This was reinforced by its incorporation in a dichotomy which was celebrated in German social theory, namely between Kultur and Zivilisation. The latter paralleled the development of Gesellschaft and was associated with technical progress. As one much-read theorist of the 1920s put it when commenting on Oswald Spengler, ‘Civilisation is a gift which may pass to unworthy generations, culture is a realization which none can share but those to whom it really belongs’ (MacIver, 1928, p. 437). The creative aspect of culture was thus linked with the essential characteristics of a group, embedded in a group, separating it from the wider world, where rationality held sway. Even an iconoclast like McLuhan (1962) could not resist exploiting the parallelism of community and culture when he invoked the ‘Global Village’.

Archer (1988) argues that ‘culture’ has been, and still is, one of the vaguest and most vacillating of concepts in sociological analysis. Nonetheless the ‘myth of cultural integration’ has effected the perceptual as well as conceptual elaboration of ‘culture’ (p. 2).

The myth was nurtured above all by the assimilation of anthropological perspectives into the functionalist paradigm for modern societies (Robertson, 2002, pp. 110-111). The result was that where instances of minority detachment from mainstream culture were manifest, the paradigm was preserved by engaging in the ethnography of the ‘subculture’ in which the assumptions of separateness, boundaries and essential nature were reproduced. In other words ‘subculture’ is offered as a device to recognize diversity, whilst reducing the pluralism of its possibilities, by making it an integral part of an integrated whole

In the post-war period the myth of ‘cultural integration’ has in effect been challenged from the outside by the development of the field known as cultural studies (Jenks, 1994, pp. 151-158). Williams was one of the key figures in its growth. He argued that there were three dominant uses of ‘culture’–culture as the process of human perfection through intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development; culture as high culture; and culture as a way of fife. More than once in his work he reflected upon the ‘genuine complexity’ of the various meanings and use of the term (Jackson, 2002), and this notion of complexity as a good thing, rather than a bad thing or a simply irreducible facticity, can also be seen in other work in the cultural studies mode (Jackson, 2002, p. xi). In itself this has provided a positive route into the exploration of alternative sources of culture and of challenges to the hegemony of high culture via culture’s involvement in the reflexive reconstruction of the social. This became the main concern of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, made famous by Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall.

More recent work in the cultural studies tradition has tended to focus upon ‘popular culture’ defined not (just) by what sells, but by a sense of the oppositional, which can easily be coded, for example, into the street style of subcultural groups. In the much more ‘mobile’ streetwise world of Hebdige (1988) he uses a conception of culture that challenges the myth of cultural integration. In part of an essay devoted to an analysis of the rapid turnover of consumption of musical styles and forms he argues that:

It no longer looks adequate to hold the appeal of these forms … to the ghetto of discrete, numerically small subcultures. For they permeate and help organize a much broader, less bounded territory where cultures, subjectivities, identities impinge on each other (Hebdige, 1988, p. 212).

This is an important break away from the notion of culture as a way of life. Hebdige criticizes the use of the idea of mass culture and is more likely to use notions of youth cultures or (more especially) popular culture. But a recent article shows how difficult it is to avoid introducing the idea of cultural integration by default. Frow has thoroughly criticized the concept of popular culture as conceived by practitioners in the cultural studies field. He argues that the concept of ‘the popular’ actively elides the distinction between three different senses of the popular. The first being the ‘market notion’ of what we might call capitalist common sense, the second a ‘descriptive notion’ being all the things that ‘the people’ do or have done, the third is the sense favored by cultural studies. Frow describes the essential features of this favored notion as follows: ‘the relations which define “popular culture” in a continuing tension (relationship, influence, antagonism) to the dominant culture’ (Frow, 2002, pp. 26-27).

These changes in social and material existences demand new forms and modes of analysis, and to some extent this is being achieved (King (ed.), 1991). When Hannerz asserts that there is a world culture he means that the world has become ‘one network of social relationships’. This world culture is created, he argues, ‘through the increasing connectedness of varied local cultures, as well as through … cultures without a dear anchorage in any one territory’. These are all, he asserts, ‘becoming subcultures … within the wider whole’ (Hannerz, 1990, p. 237).

But we can still see the problem here that these ‘cultures’ seem to remain (conceptually) untouched by internal problems, any recognition of the pluralism within a ‘culture’. Rather, they merely respond to a wider cultural frame within which they have their operation and gain their meanings (although Hannerz, 2002 has addressed these issues). In the same volume Appadurai (1990) is more successful in moving us away from the realm of cultures qua culture by exploring a framework for the disjunctures between economy, culture and politics. He analyzes global cultural flows in terms of five perspectival dimensions, called ethnoscapes (‘tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles, guestworkers …’ p. 297), mediascapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, and ideoscapes and develops ideas whereby the speed and hallucinatory quality of some aspects of modern societies may be articulated. Near the end of his essay he argues that the central feature of global culture today is:

… the politics of the mutual effort of sameness and different to cannibalize one another and thus proclaim their successful hijacking of the twin Enlightenment ideas of the triumphantly universal and the resiliently particular (Appadurai, 1990, pp. 307-308)

What is most interesting about this is that, what Thompson (1990) called the classical conception of culture is the origin of our modern senses of culture and has set the agenda for all discussions of and ‘in’ culture (Appadurai, 1990).

The relationship between the plurality and diversity of particular groups and the psychic unity of humanity entered into the definition of culture which was supposed to negotiate those very relations, to solve their problematic ‘relationship’. Every successive solution to the problem reiterated the relation in specific kinds of ways. Since the modern concept of culture worked in a constant tension between particularity and universality, it could be used to articulate antithetical viewpoints and has resisted operationalization (at least simply for intellectual purposes–see Boyne, 1990, pp. 58-59–practically it is operationalized, for example, in the activities of global organizations such as UNESCO).

But globalization has dramatic effects on that tension in the old concept. The media which make world-wide communication possible are disengaged from any primordial base. Communications technology itself promotes the disembedding of community, detaches culture from historical roots and becomes the bearer of commercialized symbolic forms so that any ‘cultural integration’ is more to be sought in media organizations themselves (Hannerz, 2002, p. 41–though he interprets the role of the non-mass media of fax, telephone, tape recordings, computer and letter as of crucial importance–p. 46).

Case Study

The alienation of individuals from a global culture serves to highlight those concepts which focus on the individual’s active efforts to create and maintain his or her own world. The phenomenology of the milieu in a globalized world can thus emerge as an explicit testing ground for new sociological conceptualization and with the formulation of the idea of globalization we are now in a better position to appreciate the significance of the phenomenological project as the re-appropriation of meaning by individuals in a world escaping their control.

He criticizes the way the ideal of ‘complete objectivation’ of experience in a formalized language, ‘scientific objectivism’, sweeps aside the ‘standpoint of subjectivity’ (Pivcevic, 1970, pp. 83-92; see also Grathoff, 1987). He thus anticipates Robertson’s unease with ‘systemic’ or ‘objective’ explanations of globalization while individual attempts to make sense of globalization in their everyday lives are largely faded out. It was Schutz who later took up Husserl’s ideas in his writing on ‘relevancies’, the creative impact of the ‘biographical state’ of individuals.

We can take the concept of the ‘milieu’ as one attempt to redress the situation by focusing on the individual’s intersubjective experience of the world: in Schutzean fashion how to make ‘our’ world from the ‘world’. But to use it today we are bound to take account of the interplay of an increasingly global, often anonymous, structure of society and the attempt of individuals to organize their surroundings in a self-determined and familiar way.

“By ‘the milieu’ we refer to our ability, but also necessity, of creating our own environment according to our intentions and always in co-operation and conflict with our fellow-beings”. Thus, by the generation and maintenance of a ‘milieu’ we gain familiarity and competence in certain practically relevant ‘zones’ of everyday life. Probably it is this emphasis on the willed activity of the individual which has made the concept resistant to incorporation within the sociological paradigm which gave community and cultures such prominence. (Eade, 1997)

Scheler originally developed the conception of ‘milieu’ within the context of Philosophical Anthropology. He distinguishes between ‘milieu-structure’ and ‘actual milieu’. The first refers to the relatively stable setting of values and intentions of the individual, which structure our milieu as ‘practical world’. The ‘actual milieu’, however, is linked to the current and transitory contents of the ‘practical world’. The ‘milieu-structure’ remains stable, whereas the ‘actual milieu’ can completely change (Vaitkus, 1991).

It was Gurwitsch who then further developed the ‘milieu’ concept by taking in an ‘implicit knowledge’ of how to deal with the ‘fellow-being’. For him it is the ‘horizon’ of the situation in the practical ‘milieu-world’ which predetermines our relationship with the other in a practical way. Since Gurwitsch is mainly concerned with concrete types of ‘milieu-situations’ and their impact on intersubjectivity, especially the notion of ‘near’ and ‘far’, his analysis provides an entry into encounters in the context of globalization, in, for instance, global cities or social networks based on computer networks, etc. (Vaitkus, 1991).

The current sociology of ‘milieu’ in this tradition is mainly concerned with the maintenance of ‘normality’ between fellow-beings by forms of prepredicative understanding and their symbolic expressions (Vaitkus, 1991). Special attention is given to types of intersubjectivity which guarantee shared borders and barriers between individual milieux.

Since the world comes increasingly together in processes of globalization it is important in helping to redefine ‘Acquaintances’ and ‘Strangers’ in terms of relative proximity.

What kind of links are there between global processes and the milieu? We can start with one of the very obvious results of globalization–‘the voluntary and involuntary cosmopolitans’ (labor migrants, refugees, businessmen, athletes, intellectuals). They all must develop the ability to make themselves at home in various places in the world. As we know with Scheler, our ‘milieu-structure’ is not influenced by a local change, since it is just our ‘actual milieu’ which changes with ‘mobility’.

The increasing mobility of individuals highlights two advantages of the ‘milieu’ concept: it never had strict borderlines or culture bounded contents, its territoriality being a function of the individuals’ values or relevancies. Its ‘situatedness’ never meant the boundedness of a single locality. ‘Milieu’ rather refers to a focus of our daily routines, distinguished by a higher degree of familiarity and competence.

In terms of the physical we can notice the ‘multiplication of life-centers’, both in biographical succession (birthplace, different living-places according to status-passages: education, work, retirement), and/or the simultaneous coordination of life-plans and daily routines around more than one locality.

This leads to the possibility of ‘extended milieux’ as the example of the milieu-type of an ‘American expatriate’ in London might illustrate.

His/her milieu centers around the American School of London and the Lutheran Church in London, where he/she meets people who share a similar milieu (internationalized families, cosmopolitan life experience, temporary employment contracts), rather than around the local neighborhood in which they have come to live. The ‘expatriate’ gets the appropriate ‘milieu-knowledge’ for the generation of a ‘stop-over-milieu’ from other ‘fellow-expatriates’ who have to deal with the same situation of temporary settlement.

At the same time he/she keeps up ties with family-members back in the States and to ‘fellow-expatriates’ at former workplaces across the globe. So the areas in which he/she feels familiar and competent are no longer fixed surroundings of a single locality but rather ‘patches’ (potentially) scattered across the globe and linked up by ‘abstract systems’.

The ‘extension’ of the ‘milieu’ however is more clearly expressed in terms of communication at a distance. Even the individual who stays local, can have his/her ‘milieu’ extended to a global reach by telephone, fax or e-mail. By those means of communication she/he can extend her/his zones of familiarity and competence into a global scope beyond the body-bounded ‘readiness at hand’. This invites a review of the ‘milieu’ concept and the notion of immediate surroundings in terms of Umwelt in the fight of global ‘abstract systems’ and the impact of technology on the lifeworld.

Advocating the link of the conception of ‘milieu’ with Schutz’ conception of ‘relevancies’ to provide better understanding of what we shall call the ‘extended milieu’. Both concepts operate at a similar epistemological level, so that Scheler’s ‘milieu-structure’ seems to match Schutz’ ‘system of relevancies’. According to Schutz the individual experiences the world as structured according to his/her ‘relevancies’ (life-plans, projects, tasks) and correspondingly structured zones of interest, knowledge and familiarity (King, 1990, p. 141). The spatio-temporal structuring of these relevancies however is determined by our access to the world. Schutz distinguishes between the ‘world within potential reach’ (attainable or restorable) and ‘world within actual reach’ (world of perceived and perceptible objects), having as its core-zone the ‘manipulatory sphere’, open to immediate interference and modification by bodily movements or ‘artificial extensions of the body’ (King, 1990, p. 141). Schutz himself sees major changes resulting from the use of ‘technical devices’ (for his time the ‘use of long-range rockets’ being the most striking example) which complicate the spatio-temporal structure of the life-world producing a convergence of the ‘world within potential reach’ and the ‘manipulatory sphere’ (King, 1990, p. 141).

That raises the question of the consequences of an (potential) ‘extension’ of the milieu on other notions of the ‘milieu’.

Presence seems no longer required in the different local extensions of our ‘milieu’ because we can use global media of communication like fax, telephone, computer. They become familiar parts of our milieu, with its extension over space limited, as any other aspect of the milieu, by the personal determination to hold the different ‘fragments’ of his/her milieu together. The extension of the milieu in this sense means an extension of the concept itself, an increased scope, a refinement of its contents and a differentiation of its varieties.

The possibility of such ‘extended milieux’, which are not limited to family or friendship relations, but may be the basis for work and leisure activities too, raises a crucial question of the degree to which the notions of ‘familiarity’ (with ‘relevant’ localities) and ‘normality’ (with ‘relevant’ contemporaries) can be produced and reproduced without face-to-face interaction. Globalization effectively brings the nature of human social relationships under new critical scrutiny. In this respect we need to make another conceptual innovation.

Tendencies to transcend the ‘milieu’ or to give it a cosmopolitan or even global dimension bring with them a basic problem, when the individual is permanently on the move (as a participant in one of the ‘transnational cultures’ (sport- and business-travelers etc). Even the ‘global individual’ needs a place to sleep, to rest and recover. Sleep needs to be protected and organized, like anything else. The way of dealing with this problem and related problems of everyday needs is through the world-wide creation and maintenance of ‘generalized milieux’, by which we mean those places which provide or serve the basic needs of the ‘global individual’ in an organized and standardized manner. Hotels, fast food outlets, petrol stations, and car rental firms are organized in chains which operate to the same standard anywhere. McDonalds is the classic example where experience of one in one town allows us to use others anywhere in the world. These places save the ‘global individual’ from the need to organize, possibly every day, another ‘actual milieu’ to serve his or her basic needs at a different location.

There is an obverse side to this transcendence of the local.

Global Cities as examples of localities which are the site of ‘micro globalization’ (Robertson, 2002, p. 54) experience the integration of global differences in religion, language, beliefs, clothes into a single locality. Generating a milieu in those places becomes almost a necessity for the individual in order to ‘handle the unexpected’ (Harvey, 1989, pp. 71-72).

The ‘milieu’ operates as a zone where the individual gains familiarity and competence, ensures security and relief in certain areas of everyday life, and provides conditions for handling the increasing optionality of a dynamized world. It is his/her ‘milieu’ which gives the individual ‘original and primary comportment towards the world-context of everyday life’ and by this makes ‘society possible’ (Vaitkus, 1991, pp. 48-56).

The internationalization of ‘local milieux’, associated with the flow of ‘voluntary and involuntary cosmopolitans’, which led to ‘all of Greater London’s thirty-two boroughs becoming more cosmopolitan between 1971 and 1981’ (King, 1990, p. 141), makes it normal that people with rather different ‘milieux’ must live together in the same locality. The relativizing of time and space (nearness and farness) in the ‘milieu’ concept thus opens critical access to problems of internationalization and multi-cultural communication. The borders and barriers between ‘milieux’ are always a relatively fluid product of shared effort, work and conflict instead of abstract commitment to a closed culture or community or adherence to state commands. It is the ‘other’ and his/her ‘milieu’ who is a necessary determination of my ‘milieu’ and at the same time conditions the scope of my acting in my ‘milieu’. At the same time irrespective of cultural commitment there are many people who consider their ‘local milieu’ as a ‘stopover’. In that sense a ‘danger’ to the local milieu is not the cultural stranger as milieu–‘neighbor’ but the neighbor who doesn’t want to be engaged in the maintenance of the milieu.

The converse is that the nearest and dearest persons by birth or by choice live elsewhere in the world or one has moved far from them. Families may be extended around the world and with modem communications that dispersal no longer need mean broken contact. The telephoned news of a birth in Washington raises cheers in London and the new grandmother makes hasty arrangements for a transatlantic flight.

Those who remain tied to a locality feel the impact of globalization also as ‘local milieux’ become sites for other people’s ‘generalized milieux’. Again the fast food chains are a good example for this interplay between the local and the global. Although designed for the global traveler rather than for the needs of local residents, their ‘generalized’ nature equally allows locals to enter. The local ‘character’ takes his/her place in the nearest McDonalds, finds the discarded newspaper, someone to talk to, and, if s/he is lucky, a free coffee. She develops his/her actual milieu within the generalized milieu and brings the global and the local together.

But the spread of ‘generalized milieux’ results in an increasingly standardized everyday-life adapted to global needs (Waters, 1994, pp. 211-212). We can ask whether it is only the ‘character’ who is individual enough to create a local milieu from a fast food outlet. For local residents these settings are largely associated with the kind of flow of ‘voluntary and involuntary cosmopolitans’. The notion of ‘generalized milieux’ raises a crucial question of the interplay between ‘milieux’ as zones distinguished by individual competence and familiarity, and everyday life in which we act according to standardized roles and typifications, which needs further exploration.

Looking at the ‘milieu’ concept in the light of globalization processes we find it quite effective in handling the phenomenon of increasing global mobility. We find that the disembedding of ‘milieux’ may result in their (potential) ‘extension’ with global scope while ‘generalized milieux’ are part of a deliberate process of globalization. Both depend on individuals’ access to global media of communication and increasing individual mobility. Thus ‘milieux’ spread and intermingle in a scattered way as loci of individuals’ local, regional and global relevances, constituting one ‘concrete structuration of the world as a whole’.

This is entirely consistent with the fact that culture is now a key concept for social units which have long had minimal territorial associations, namely the large scale corporation (Williams et al., 1989; Hofstede, 1991). It is valued by the modern business consultant for the essentialist, boundary defining, deep motivating factors that the idea has evoked in the past, with the added factor of imparting a primary elemental force to organizational structure thus effectively conferring charisma on the dark-suited executive. It is a pure case of a concept disembedded from its territorial base and reembedded in a communications media frame. But its new locus makes it ephemeral and manipulable, its dimensions altered at will by the modern magician. It is just as alien and external to the individual as ‘high culture’ was to an illiterate peasantry.

The limits to this manipulability and emphemerality can be approached by attempting to articulate the real–existent and emerging–relationships between context and social meaning. Such an analysis might seek to grasp ‘the different ways in which ideational patterns may be interpreted, employed, reconstituted and expanded in a variety of situational circumstances’ (Robertson, 2002, p. 111). How it could relate issues of meaning and structure and also the metacultural codes of societies (Robertson, pp. 34, 41) raises questions of a different order of difficulty and even intelligibility.

The pattern of the coming together of context and social meaning in globalizing processes can be seen in the new network ‘frames’ constructed by groups and individuals out of travel and non-mass media resources. The variety of new forms of association (computer networks–Whole Earth Electronic Link, GreenNet, KIDLINK, GLOBALink, Internet and business computer networks; ethnic diasporas; exchange students; global non-governmental organizations–Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth; the globality of social movements; jet set and brain drain–see Ferencz and Keyes, 1991; Sproull and Kiesler, 1991; Hannerz, 2002, pp. 46-47; Rheingold, 1994; Stefanik, 1993; Solomos and Back, 1994, p. 150) with different temporalities and spatialities, fleeting forms of encounter, in which dense and varied meanings flow, are the new forms of dispersed polycentric ‘communities’ within which it will make sense to speak of culture. Apart from the experience of travel, migration and the transformations of ethnic belonging there is only a limited literature and knowledge of the implications of these forms of association for cultural flow. We have even less sense of the extent to which these associations overlap and interweave (see Hannerz, 2002, p. 47; Rheingold, 1994 for the overlapping, interest and quasi-community centred culture of multiple computer networks). This deterritorialized, non-integrationist conception of culture requires empirical research with appropriate methodology which seeks as a key focus to grasp the relationships between modes of globality and modes of compression (Robertson, 2002, pp. 22, 28 fn.4).

Paradoxically the means whereby culture has been globalized themselves militate against anything which could be called a unitary global culture. The locus of culture is severed from either high or low culture locations and its new site is in a phase of mass production. The universality of culture is achieved, equally destroyed, through the particularity of megastars (Madonna, Michael Jordan) and global media events (Live Aid, World Cup, Olympics, Gulf War–Mellancamp 1990; D’Arcy, 1993) and images. Culture can no longer potentially simply encapsulate the historic experience of a people. In that sense it may not be exaggerated to speak of the end of culture.

In each case it is the real life structuration of the social which becomes the focus of concern. From that point of view the attention Giddens has given recently to the idea of the pure relationship as an element in self-help literature is worthwhile, but his own program for structuration theory as he outlined it in The Constitution of Society (1984) requires more attention to be directed to the making of structures of relationships in the proliferating new social formations which span boundaries and criss-cross the globe. Social descriptions of the globalized world must grasp the nature of megalopolis, computer dating, video link-ups, interactive art, virtual reality, data banks, backyard sales, new age travelers.


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