This paper is an attempt to search for a theoretical grounding on the proposal that the people on the ground — what civil society calls “grassroots communities” — possess the practical resources to resist the havoc created by globalization. In particular, this is a debate with some existing theories of globalization. I might present some empirical examples but this is only done in order to explicate the theory.
Liberal economic capitalism gone global has presented itself as the only viable game in town. The apologists of globalization from Friedman to Fukuyama flaunt it as the “end of history”, that is, the pinnacle of human civilization. But we also know its victims in the face. They are our neighbors, families and friends — the contractual labourer whose basic worry is the “endo” (the end of contract period after five months); the indigenous people whose ancestral lands have been ravaged by mining machineries; the OFW whose family life is ironically endangered in order just to earn something for his family. These faces are victims of globalization, of what Pope Francis calls “the economy of exclusion”. The basic question this paper intends to answer is: Where does resistance come from during the era of globalization?
2. The Complexities of Globalization
In 1998, Frederic Jameson, an American neo-Marxist and literary critic, wrote a short article entitled “Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue”. I would like to use his ideas in order to show how complex the phenomenon called globalization is.
First, globalization has its cultural and economic dimensions. Let us cite some local examples. I think you are familiar with Eastwood City. Do you want to eat cuisine from all parts of the world? Name it, you have it! A Greek, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Italian, French, Arabic restaurants locate themselves in one of the corners of this small enclave. The mixing of culinary taste has been going on since the time the Chinese and Arabs traded with the early Filipinos. But it has moved in an unprecedented pace in our time because of the massive exchange of peoples and products through technology, communication and transportation. It is not only here but also in big cities like New York or Paris, Filipino cuisine ranks with the rest as globally competitive. Beyond food, think about how music, couture or arts mix and mingle as fast as the click of a mouse. This emphasis on the global movement of cultures throughout the world, according to Jameson, celebrate difference. The celebration of difference is good news for the dominated cultures. Once forgotten and denigrated, we are now given a voice the world stage. Celebrating difference in genders and ethnicities, in cases like the LGBT for instance, recovers hidden unrepresented voices once suppressed by dominant worldviews. Postmodernity and its favourite word “difference” does not only lie at the level of the cultural but also on the economic. Apologists of the market argues that globalization encourages a rich variety of global productivity. Because their products have access to the world market, producers creatively think of new production ventures that leads to the mushrooming of new economic initiatives on the ground. So far, so good!
But opposite to difference, Jameson argues, globalization can also be viewed from the perspective of identity. On the cultural level, for instance, what we observe is not a plurality but standardization of cultures. Instead of diversity and difference, one observes the “MacDonaldization”, “Cocacolonization” or “Disneyfication” of the world. The big M and the big C can be found all over the place — from the metropolis to the remotest barangays just as there are Disneylands in almost all the continents. Instead of seeing local theatres flourishing, for instance, all you get is the same Hollywood image translated into different languages. Then, you see Rambo speak Hindi or Ilonggo. In the economic level, instead of seeing plural agricultural production as promised, what we have is the practice of mono-cropping. Export crops (banana, pineapple, corn and palms) also called “cash crops” occupy our agricultural landscape which ironically do not feed our people.
3. The Problem with Dominant Theories
We have shown how complex globalization can be. But whose discourse shall we subscribe to? Some dominant theorists find it expedient to pin globalization down under one banner or motif in order to master its discourse. In this short presentation, let me present two thinkers — Arjun Appadurai whose seminal work entitled Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (1998) and Francis Fukuyama whose work entitled The End of History and the Last Man (1992) have become bestsellers in their own right. I will argue that these diametrically opposed dominant theories (cultural vs. economic) converge on neglecting actual practical voices on the ground and fall prey to the temptation of what Pierre Bourdieu calls the “theoretical fallacy”.
Let us take the case of Arjun Appadurai. This now famous anthropologist of globalization comes from Mumbai and has been teaching in the universities in the US —Chicago, New York and Yale. He is also a globalization consultant of the World Bank, Ford Foundation, UNESCO, Rockefeller and many others. In a nutshell, Appadurai argues, that globalization is composed of overlapping and disjunctive cultural flows — ethnoscapes (migration of peoples and cultures); mediascapes (highly development media communication); technoscapes (technological innovation); financescapes (capital flux); ideoscapes (flows of ideas). “Few persons in the world today,” writes Appadurai, “do not have a friend, relative, or co-worker who is not on the road to somewhere else or already coming back home bearing stories and possibilities” (Appadurai, 1998). These flows construct our personal identities and imaginaries creating “communities of sentiment” making community fluid and lose its local or ontological moorings. Like the global flows around us, reality, community, identity are also in flux making globalization a joyous celebration of difference.
One critical point against Appadurai: on the ground, we know that the access to these “scapes” are quite asymmetric. Some cities are fully online; other places have not even seen a computer. The digital divide is just so palpable and real to deny. Though many people travel; they do so for different reasons. The great sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, says there are two kinds of postmodern travellers — one is a tourist; the other is a vagabond: “The tourists stay and move at their heart’s desire. The vagabonds, however, know they won’t stay for long, however strongly they wish to, since nowhere they stop are they welcome. The tourists travel because they want to; the vagabonds — because they have no other choice.” Think of our OFWs and you know what I mean.
The second theorist is Francis Fukuyama who works in famous American universities like Stanford, John Hopkins or George Masson. He served as foreign policy adviser to different American Presidents from Ronald Reagan to George Bush. His book The End of History and the Last Man (1992) is the catechetical sourcebook of the neoliberal market. He writes that neo-liberal economic system is “capable of linking different societies around the globe to one another physically through the creation of global markets, and of creating parallel economic aspirations and practices in a host of diverse societies.” With the liberal market is democracy — the political system that guarantees individual freedom, pluralism and the spirit of free play conducive to global markets. We only need to join in the game. In truth, it is the only game in town.
One question for Fukuyama: Has the world become diverse or is it a mere repetition of the same? Visit an Export Processing Zone and what meets the eye are working areas that make Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World (1931) come to life. Here is one description: large box type buildings, color coded identical vests, monotonous tedious work, under surveillance by supervisors from the “aquarium” in the center of the production floor reminiscent of Bentham’s panopticon whose oppressive “gaze” Foucault accurately exposes (Discipline and Punish, 1975). Democracy and freedom within liberal economies? In the context of extreme poverty, the promise of freedom is mere lip service. Like the vagabonds, the poor worker does not have the capability to decide for his or her life; he has no choice — a realization which Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, has so eloquently proven (Development as Freedom, 2001).
4. Back to the Rough Ground: Resistance in Grassroots Communities
The problem with the above theories (and many others like them) is that they emerge from a different social location as the millions of people worldwide who live on one dollar a day. If we think of the authors’ socio-economic, political and academic location, one can deduce where their theories come from. As the saying goes: “You speak from where you stand.” In the words of a French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, these theories are products of a “scholastic point of view”. The Greek word skhole — from where school also comes from — means “leisure”. Theorists find themselves in the location of leisure; and their theories are leisurely. The Greek “theoros” — from where the word theory comes from — means the spectator of the [Olympian] games. “Theoria” means the act of watching the games. This scholastic “gaze”, because they are leisurely, are detached from the actual movement, friction and uncertainties of human practice on the ground. The famous British philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, writes: “We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk; so we need friction. Back to the rough ground.”
My thesis is simple. If we want to locate where resistance is found in times of globalizing economies, we have to look for it from the acts of resistance and survival among the victims of the system. We need to bring our theories back to the rough grounds where people resiliently grapple with the harshness of life in order to survive.
I come from the experience of these resilient peoples who have resisted colonial oppression, corrupt dictatorships, and indescribable poverty. Though most of them unschooled and anxious to find the next meal, they have nonetheless survived all through the centuries. When I go home to the small village where I come from in the south of Cebu, the people whom I know from childhood really find life so difficult that they can only express it in tears. But it is also these same people who can laugh to their hearts’ content and dance their bodies away in some simple celebrations. I have parallel experiences in other places — in the Payatas dumpsite; with the kariton families along Quezon City streets; or at Yolanda’s Ground Zero. In these grassroots communities, life moves on with such a courage and resilience founded as they are on the people’s utter will to survive, their meager social networks, and their trust in a God whom they believe as on their side.
Beyond phenomenological experience, there is a host of other parallel theories which we can only mention here but could not explore due to lack of space and time. One of this is Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s notion of the “multitude” that opposes the “Empire”. “The multitude [new movements of resistance found in anti-globalization protests like Genoa, Occupy Wall Street, World Social Forum] is the real productive force of our social world, whereas Empire is a mere apparatus of capture that lives only off the vitality of the multitude — as Marx would say, a vampire regime of accumulated dead labor that survives only by sucking off the blood of the living” (Empire, 62).
The second parallel concept is Michel de Certeau’s notion of “tactic” as poaching on the dominant. De Certeau distinguishes strategy from tactic. Only those who possess the territory can strategize. The dispossessed and the dominated can only poach on the terrain of the dominant. Bereft of place, it can only play on the territory of the strong. “It poaches on them; it creates surprises for them. It can be where it is least expected. It is a guileful ruse” (De Certeau, 1984).
The third parallel notion is James Scott’s “weapons of the weak” which privileges everyday resistance of the poor. “Where institutional politics is formal, over, convert with systematic de jure change, everyday resistance is informal, often covert, and concerned largely with the immediate, de facto gains” (Scott, 1985).
When the Empire has covered almost every ground in contemporary societies, where do we locate resistance? Grand theories from both the left and the right talk of resistance as “great revolutions” or “free global flows” that make the subaltern speak. Our option is to locate it in the time-tested skills of survival and resistance in grassroots communities at the rough grounds. Great rebellions, according to Marc Bloch, are “mere flashes in the pan”; they create noise but are most often invariably doomed to defeat. But everyday resistance — “the patient, silent struggles, stubbornly carried on by the rural communities over the years would accomplish more than these flashes in the pan” (Bloch, 1970).
Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M.
St. Vincent School of Theology
The complex discourse of globalization has its promises and perils. On the one hand, the postmodern celebration of difference has promised subalterns the possibility of being heard and valorized again in the global arena, e.g., the presence of Third World cultures in world economic centers; the exposure of local issues and advocacies in international networking sites, etc. On the other hand, globalization has also produced it victims, e.g., migration and human trafficking, destruction of indigenous communities and environment through the incursion of big companies, and many others. This paper tries to locate where possible resistance lie in the context of this powerful economic-political force called globalization which also presents itself as “the only game in town”. Using contemporary philosophical-sociological frameworks, I will argue that the grassroots communities who have survived long years of colonial oppression possess alternative cultural resources that counters the inroads of what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri calls the “Empire”.