The Conundrum of Peoplehood in the XXI-Century World-System
[Paper originally presented at the VII Annual Sociological Symposium Sociology in the 21st. Century: Diversity & the Global Perspective, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, April 19, 1996. Revised and published in the Mexican Journal Frontera Interior, Revista de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades,Año 1, Número 1., pp. 91-107, Enero-Abril, 1999.]
The poet T.S. Eliot writes in his Four Quarters: "In order to arrive at what you are not, you must go through the way in which you are not." I take the meaning of this is passage in two ways, one facing the past and the other facing the future. To understand why you are not presently something, you must understand the ways in which you have not been capable, willing, or even aware enough to imagine becoming that before, in the past. This is at the core of the historical social sciences. There are several things we humans are not today, especially at a global level of analysis. For instance, we are not very just, or equal, or even concerned towards certain others. And each of these things we are not might be explained only by revealing the intricate historical pathways through which we kept not becoming those things; or kept thinking we were becoming them but were not actually; or became something quite different and unexpected from what we sought to become or even conceived of becoming. The other meaning is that if you wish to become something new, say an essentially egalitarian global society in the next century or so, something you are presently not, then you have to work with what you have, what you are, and transform it to build what you not yet have, what you not yet are. This is at the core of public policy making and at the heart of the strategy of many social movements for change.
Poets may indeed have excellent
sociological insight. We should follow T.S. Eliot's wise advise if we wish
to understand the perplexing state of peoplehood in the world today and
perhaps assist to remold it for tomorrow, the topic of this paper. I first
intend to focus on explaining why essentially nobody quite became what
they sought to become, or imagined they were becoming, as "peoples," over
the last few centuries of the modern era; then I will try to describe where
humanity is at today, the conundrum of peoplehood we face; envisioning
what humanity may or ought to become in the next century is addressed at
II. The Universal Partricularism of Peoplehood In Human History.
We start with the universal fact that humans have always "granulated" into peoples. Socioculturally and politically speaking, we humans have never become, even for a short period, and are certainly not now, a unified species-people. Max Weber's (1978) concept of social closure - the strong tendency for social groups to seize upon certain social criteria as marks of distinction and means by which to set themselves apart from outsiders - is applicable to the phenomenon of peoplehood throughout human history, and as such it strongly conditions and frames Aristotle's otherwise open-ended definition of humans as social animals. We have always glued socially, but we always seem to run out of the same glue for everybody, or we use a different kind of glue for those we define as "others." Although the ways of enclosing ourselves into the proverbial "We's" and "They's" of peoplehood have changed many times in the past, the fact that humans have consistently formed bounded communities of consciousness has not. This is the universal particularism of peoplehood.
Sociobiologist Pierre Van Den Berghe (1981) explains this "ethnic" fact as a primordial cultural adaptation encoded as an instinct of kinship solidarity in the long course of human biological evolution. After all, for 99 percent of human history, up to ten thousand years ago or so, humans existed solely in very small, nomadic, kin-based band societies, a necessary social condition given that the main subsistence activities were gathering, scavenging, and hunting/fishing, and that the tool kits for these activities were very limited. Since hominids have existed for several million years this view is not altogether implausible, there is enough room to enlist biology ("nature") to help us explain the persistence, if not the wide varieties of, bounded forms of social consciousness associated with more complex, horticultural, agrarian, industrial, and now postindustrial forms of social being.
Increasingly over the last ten thousand
years, however, humans have become less disconnected spatially and culturally,
less socially distant from each other across kin-lines; we belong to fewer,
larger, more diverse types of sociocultural domains than when humans existed
exclusively in small nomadic band societies. Surely there is something
else at work here, much more plastic and malleable than biological evolution,
molding "peoples" in richly diverse historical pathways. The dynamics of
class stratification and class struggle, and state formation, for one thing,
do count, as many since Marx and Engels (1975) have pointed out. But perhaps
they count only in the short-to-medium-term, in the crevices and conjunctures
of history. More interesting perhaps are the long-term, large-scale, cultural
convergences and subsequent divergences, progressions and regressions,
homogenizations and diversifications in recorded human history - China,
the Andean and Mesoamerican worlds, Islam, Western civilization come to
mind. In each of these civilizations, particular forms of peoplehood emerged
and evolved, waxed and waned in rhythm with the civilizations themselves.
III. The Sequential Universalized Particularisms Of Our Modern Times.
In the modern era, there have been several key singularities or world-historic moments that have ushered in new sets of hierarchically ordered forms of peoplehood, forms that eventually reached out to the whole world and usually combined and overlapped with older forms. These turning points of modernity need to be accounted for from a single theoretical framework. I am referring here, firstly, to the era after Columbus and the colonial construction of modern free and enslaved "races" in the Americas; secondly, the time of the French encyclopedists, the scientific revolution, and the spatial-political construction of modern strong and weak "national states" in Europe and the Americas; thirdly, the time of Cecil Rhodes and the imperial construction of "colonies," where European "White colonizers" subjugated non-European "native colonials" in Africa and Asia; fourthly, the time of Henry Ford and assembly-line industrialism, and the emergence of vast "ethnic" cauldrons fed by transatlantic industrial migration flows in all core countries; and finally to today, at the dawn of the postindustrial information age, when we are witnessing a new crisis of peoplehood and the ubiquitous spread of its transitional form, the so-called "multicultural society." Each of these forms of peoplehood have been elevated as universals in the course of modern times.
Why do I qualify the multicultural society as transitional? Because peoplehood in most countries today is far from being constituted by neat, homogeneous nations (melting pots or puree soups), the assimilationist asymptote, or by the harmonious, egalitarian mosaics of distinct peoples and cultures (salad bowls, rainbows, etc.), the pluralist asymptote. The multicultural societies around the world increasingly look more like grotesque, multi-layered ice cream cakes that have been in and out of the refrigerator and in and out of the microwave oven too many times, exhibiting deformed and peculiar partial meltdowns of their layers. The new global singularity is the repetitive hodgepodge diversity of the multicultural society. The overlapping and recombined layers of the multicultural society are the racial, colonial, national, ethnic, caste, tribal, and other past sociocultural forms of peoplehood.
The categories themselves are melting and re-freezing everywhere. More problematic, the cakes themselves seem to be falling apart under the impact of globalization. In the United States, for example, we have witnessed the rise of the hodgepodge panethnicities of Hispanic/Latino and Asian American, one already an official ethnicity, the other not yet, stuck still in the racial box of the census; meanwhile African Americans and European Americans are still held to racial categories, despite the persistent presence of so-called White ethnics and Afro-Caribbeans. The growth of so-called "mixed-race" households has spun, on the one hand, the strange "multiracial" identity movement, and on the other, the new policy to allow, starting with the 2000 census, for people to fill in as many identity categories as they wish. Surely, as many have noted, the whole labeling scheme is becoming incoherent and meaningless. Less noted is how this includes the national label itself, American, for the dynamics of global acculturation ó what some refer to as cultural imperialism (Tomlinson, 1991) ó and globalization in the economic sphere are spreading American cultural and economic practices worldwide as much as the world is entering America.
Inside all of the current categories of peoplehood one can find complexity, a cultural dynamic of religious, national-origin, language, citizen status, and other forms of differentiation. None of the "peoples" are that culturally homogeneous. Neither are they that distinct from each other. Americans of all types (and non-Americans) are overwhelmingly engaging in pretty much the same cultural practices, as they have become increasingly subject to mass commodification and MacDonaldization (Ritzer, 1993). To compound things further, the whole jerry-rigged scheme of the multicultural society is under severe stress in each country due to the dramatic increase of authorized and unauthorized, one-way and two-way, migration flows and the emergence of significant transborder, bi-residential, commuter forms of peoplehood.
How can we make sense of this mess? How can we speak of whole and distinct cultures, whole and distinct nations, and inside them whole and distinct peoples, in this increasingly dynamic and interpenetrating situation? And yet, people continue to invest today as much meaning to their fixed "identities," whether national, ethnic, or racial, as ever before, if not more. We are, therefore, multiculturalists by default, for lack of a new universal particularism with which to streamline things, again. There have been others before and surely new ones will come.
Is all this, by the way, as the so-called primordialists would have it, merely the biologically coded legacy (the "nature" factor) of our hunter/gatherer forefathers and mothers gone wild in todayís hypercomplex societies? Hardly, though perhaps it, the primordialist perspective, does help explain part of the way why we unfailingly cling so much to particularistic identities even when -- or especially when -- they do not make any sense anymore, if ever they did. The confusing proliferation and overlapping arrays of forms of peoplehood today can be mostly explained by the "nurture" factors of human cultural interaction, diffusion, and innovation; by the changing environmental and population conditions, including modern human migration patterns; by scientific and technological innovations; and, last but not least, by the global and long-term economic and political structural processes of the complex historical social system Immanuel Wallerstein (1974) calls the modern capitalist world-system.
Let us attempt an integrated theoretical account of peoplehood in the modern era. Historical capitalism, the latest world-system, if one takes the standard view, expanded over the course of the last five or six centuries with such force that by the end of the 19th century it practically engulfed the entire planet, incorporating practically all of humanity - the first truly global world-system. And yet it did so without, or more precisely by not, unifying humanity socioculturally or politically beyond a certain point, always ordering peoplehoods segmentally in space, hierarchically in status, and sequentially in time. Modern humanity has experienced on several occasions, with the force of a hurricane, a series of universalized particularisms, or preferred ways of forging peoples in relation to each other on a global scale. These archetypal forms of peoplehoods emerged from and in turn sustained the unfolding political and economic structural processes of historical capitalism.
Economically, the modern world-system developed a single, axial division and integration of labor and global world-market; and politically, at least since the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, state-to-state relations within its orbit formed a single hierarchical political system that rested on international law and the balance of power. And just as much, patterns of cultural integration and differentiation also occurred on a very large scale.
Culturally, Europe not only Europeanized the world, but the New World was Africanized and the Old World was Indianized, conquered if you will by Indian corn, potatoes, beans, chocolate, tobacco, and a thousand other products of Native American material culture. We can push things a little further, as Frank and Gills (1993) have done, and show how this process of world cultural transmission and integration actually goes back a few thousand years, how, in fact, most modern cultural traits, and even economic market dynamics we take for European or Western in origin, can be traced to China, or India, or Egypt, or Mesopotamia.
Eric Wolf (1996) notes there has been, for a long time, a kind of a dual differentiation and integration process conforming modern peoples and cultures, not arbitrarily, but within causal contexts we still need to fully understand. For him, the Anthropologists' usual assumption that all the elements of a given contemporary people's "own culture" are tightly interrelated functionally and structurally, what would give it a sense of unity and distinctiveness, does not square historically with the creolization processes or cross-cultural and cross-breeding processes that ensued within the advancing world-system of the last few centuries. Nobody's culture is or has been "pristine," no modern people is "pure" anything. But the result of so much cultural diffusion and interaction has neither been the global homogenization of culture, or the formation of what I would call a world-people; rather, we observe on the world cultural plane the sequential, hierarchically ordered, geographical segmentations of race, nation, ethnicity, and tribe of the last few centuries. And within these criss-crossing boundaries of modern peoplehood, what we observe, as Wolf puts it, are "situations in which [peoples'] cultural repertoires appear to be put together contextually, like Tinkertoys, and not embodied forms of a unitary vision." (1996: 96)
These fusioning and re-granulation processes have created waves of social concern with "identity," the amplitude or intensity of peoplehood, if you will. Together, these processes and waves of identity have elevated, universalized if you will, particular forms of peoplehood as the "preferred" ones at different times in the evolution of the modern world-system.
When race arose historically as a social construct, Africa hosted perhaps ten thousand cultures. The Africans brought to the Americas, according to Ali Mazrui (1986: 302), were "dis-Africanized by the West, and yet at the same time racialised in identity. 'Forget you are an African, remember you are a Black!'." But that is one side of the story. Notwithstanding the terrible ordeal the Diaspora Africans were subjected to, including the flattening of their myriad peoplehoods into a de-humanized form based on certain physical characteristics ascribed to them as significant by their enslavers, Mazrui also says, "... the African presence in the outer world has been part of the universality of Africa, part of the transition from the ethnocentric image of the ëtribeí as the world to the universalistic image of the world as a family." No complete cultural erasure or total loss of historic memory was possible either, leading to what Mazrui calls the "re-Africanization of the African Diaspora" in our times, manifested in the terms "African American," "Afro Brazilian," etc.. In fact, all those that came into contact with these Africans were also, to some degree, "Africanized," just as these Diaspora Africans, in their racialized condition, could not avoid becoming, to some degree, Europeanized.
One can say the same thing about of the Native Americans. "Forget you are a Taino (or Maya, or Aymara), remember you are an Indian!"; then, in late colonial Ibero America, "Forget you are an Indian, remember you are a peasant!"; and, in 20th-century, republican Latin America, "Forget you are an Indian peasant, remember you are a Mexican (or Chilean)!" In both the African Diaspora and the Indigenous Americans cases, the flattening of myriad peoplehoods into subordinate racial, then class/ethnic, and finally national categories, was for the most part connected to the formation of vast labor pools to be put to work coercively ó mostly mining, encomienda and plantation work ó for the world-economy along a spatial division of labor by area of the world.
Of course, the final elevation of white supremacy as the cardinal cultural principle of colonialism in the 19th century throughout Africa proper and Asia (and of the internal colonialism implanted in all of the western hemispheric republics) generalized and extended the subordinate status of "native" to all populations living in areas of the world outside Europe, with the exception of the colonial Europeans themselves. Whiteness, once fully ideologized, completed the new world order of peoplehood based on the "color line" as the universalized boundary between free and unfree peoples, between peoples entitled to "sovereignty" and those deemed pre-ordained merely to serve it. Systematized in the mid-19th century, by 1900 it was a White Man's World, the rest was landscape; a very selective form of universality given high literary form, for example, in the works of Joseph Conrad. It would not last long. It blew up this century as the axial form of modern peoplehood, leaving in its wake vestiges still visible today, like the remnants of a supernova explosion. Racial identities persist and are even re-created. Racist theories and ideologies constantly resurface in our modern cauldron of peoplehood. Racial stratification persists as a material fact of life in most of the world.
The category of race weakened and eventually was removed as the universal particularism of the modern world-system when an entirely new wave of concern with identity in the late 18th century took the world by storm: the concern for nationhood, the second great universal of peoplehood of the modern era. Having taken root first in the Americas in the late 18th century and early 19th century, then in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century, and finally throughout the colonial world in the aftermath of the Second World War, everybody eventually sought (and many still seek today) to form a national state, to build a nation with a "national culture" and possessed of "national sovereignty." The principle of self-determination, proclaimed and elevated to a fundamental political right of all non-European colonials and all European "oppressed nations" in the aftermath of the First World War by both the American President Woodrow Wilson and the Soviet Union's founder Lenin, was universally brought to bear in the course of our century by revolutionaries and imperialists alike to re-conform economic and power relations on a new plane of "international relations."
The Western Hemisphere witnessed the birth of the modern nation-state, first in the well-known1776 white settler revolt in what became the United States of America and in the less-known 1789 black slave and mulatto revolt in Haiti, then in the rest of the Americas in the early decades of the 19th century. In the second half of the 19th century, the British and U.S. competed for the hegemony of the emerging, nominally independent Latin American nation-states, culminating with the unquestioned U.S. regional supremacy in the early 20th century. In Africa and India, after World War II the British imperialists, faced with an unstoppable revolutionary movement against colonialism and for national liberation, opted to forge peacefully a Commonwealth with the newly-independent nation-states. The French, less savvy, had to endure two disastrous colonial wars in Algeria and Vietnam before they came around to setting up their own sphere of influence in nominally independent French Africa. The Soviets, decades before, successfully co-opted the national liberation impulse ó at least for three-quarters-of-a-century - in the former Tsarist empire, internally by erecting the so-called Soviet Republics and externally in Eastern Europe through the Warsaw Pact system. The Chinese did the same thing internally after the success of the Chinese Revolution in 1949, setting up the so-called Autonomous Republics and Regions. And if the historical socialism of the 20th century relied on various formulas of nationhood, its demise in 1989-1992 fell back on national state formulas as the USSR itself and several East European countries collapsed and fragmented into new national states, all at roughly the same time.
In the United States, the earliest and most modern national state conceived, the European American framers and founders stumbled on the question of race and left it to their descendants to fight a bloody civil war over it a century later. That war was in itself not sufficient to resolve the "American Dilemma," as Gunnar Myrdal (1944) would emphasize a century later . The 19th century was spent building a continent-sized "Great White Republic" national state and the 20th century was spent projecting its power worldwide - but without recourse to old-fashion colonialism (with a few exceptions like Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Panama). It can be said that, like the Great Russian Soviets did with "their" oppressed nations, the white Americans did with "their" oppressed races, setting up various regional apartheid systems with some aspects of internal colonialism, as pertaining the racialized treatment of Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Asian Americans. American nationalism, despite its potency, was severely hampered by its racial order.
Nation-building as a paradigm of fulfilled modern peoplehood also ran into problems everywhere else from the start. In Latin America, the next area where nationalism took hold, the Criollo insurgent elites that wrested independence from Spain utterly failed to deal with the casta problem, a semi-rigid racial stratification system evolved in colonial times. In an era of liberalism, free trade, modernization, and blind faith in progress, these elites, otherwise champions of nation-building along these lines, were crippled, as Skidmore & Smith point out, by their
In Europe, revolutionary and reactionary nationalism became so virulent people repeatedly sought to annihilate each other over the first half of this century, and exhausted, began to increasingly replace their nationalism for a pan-European identity over the second half, though not without engendering all sorts of separatist tendencies, the latest of which is flaring in the Balkans and Russia. Clearly, the direction the Europeans are taking ó at least the western Europeans - is one of forging a peoplehood commensurate with their core status and spatial state integration, a supranational form developed quite consciously to preserve and expand its overall privileged position in the world-economy. Gorbachevís gamble to trade in the Cold War and historical socialism for Russian membership in a future "House of Europe," by the way, will clearly not happen anytime soon, for the European Union was conceived as a rich-only club. Hence the particularly dangerous resurfacing of Great Russian nationalism.
In Africa, the intertribal configurations created out of whole cloth in colonial times have persistently been playing havoc on the postcolonial independent countries, causing innumerable civil wars, sustaining dictatorial regimes, and even producing genocide. Arab nationalism, on the other hand, has consistently encountered problems based on clan, sect, or sheik dictatorships, not to mention the Arab-Israeli conflict of the last half-a-century, or the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as of late, the latter of which posits, among other things, the theocratic state as the preferred form of religious-based peoplehood as an alternative to western-style, secular nationhood.
Having sufficiently inspired their countrymen to fight against colonialism and for national liberation, revolutionaries like Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse Tung, Gamal Abdal Nasser, and Fidel Castro successfully defied and humbled the great world powers in this century, while reactionaries seized on the nationalist banner to build the fascist fatherland in Italy and Germany, causing a world catastrophe. Liberals and conservatives everywhere, in fact, have been equally patriotic over the last two centuries. Even the socialists known for their internationalism opted for the most part for building "socialism in one country." Nationalism in the 20th century clearly captured the imagination of the world, of all social actors. Why and how?
The concept of the national state seduced everybody in its promise of forging a unified and identifiable "people" out of diverse populations with distinctive pre-national and sub-national identities of their own. Furthermore, it proclaimed the sovereignty of the people in the new relation between itself, the nation, and the state - no foreign colonizer, no monarch or nobility, no high priest or pope, no master race, the people would rule based on universal citizenship. Democracy, even if sharply contained within a given territory, was another promise held out for all who attained nationhood; equality, too, even if achieved at the expense of erasing diversity; and, most central of all, economic prosperity, a matter of tapping the national will and the national unity (McMichael, 1996). These were the promises of nationalism ó the why it gained currency.
As to the how, as Benedict Anderson (1983) points out, with the rise of the printed press and other means of mass communication and transport, certain vernaculars were inevitably selected as "national languages" over dozens of others, and people began to imagine to be a part of a "national community" commensurate to book and newspaper markets. "National culture" became the venue of the arts, "national politics" the venue of politics. The "national economies" became, at least rhetorically, domains of market unification and regulation circumscribed by political borders; each endowed, it was imagined, with sufficient endogenous factors of production, such as classes, resources, culture, and capital, which, if combined correctly, could lead to achieving unlimited progress and well-being, irrespective of other national economies. Everybody could imagine becoming not just a nation, but an England! Even Marx, the great advocate of proletarian internationalism and critic of capitalism, could not escape talking about "our" national bourgeoisie and "our" working class, taking the national scale of class for granted, and speaking of England as the image of the future for everybody.
Already noticed at the time, the world-economy was becoming vastly more integrated, more global, and definitely more stratified geographically. But this latter aspect was dismissed as the legacy of an old order and at worst a temporary, transitional stage of modernity: capitalism would soon integrate the world into as seamless system of indistinguishable replicas of advanced national societies. Trade itself and the "invisible hand of the market" would equalize things, while science and technology would unleash global prosperity. Just as the national granulation of humanity was elevated as the new universalized particularism of peoplehood, the core-periphery structures of the world-system that sustained and enlarged the tremendous gap between the so-called advanced and the so-called backward countries and areas of the world was emphatically prophesized to end soon by all "futurists" in the century between 1848 (the year of the publication of the Communist Manifesto) and 1968 (the beginning of the end of Pax Americana) , either by evolution or revolution, by the dynamic workings of capitalism itself or by its overthrow and the dynamic workings of socialism.
In the East, the Soviets and the Chinese opted for the socialist road, and achieved an impressive measure of "development," especially if measured from whence they started from, but nowhere near the pace needed to "catch up" to the level of the rich, post-imperial capitalist countries of the West. In the West, every national elite that came upon a newly-independent state tried to "modernize" and "develop" their own country in the 19th century following the free trade, laissez faire prescriptions of Adam Smith, and in the second half of the 20th century following the prescriptions of W.W. Rostow (1960) and J. M. Keynes (1936), both of which placed greater emphasis than Smith on the active economic role of the national state and the internal configuration of productive forces and very little on global actors and processes . But the gap between the so-called developed countries and the so-called less-developed countries only widened, to the order of over a hundred times in the course of the last 150 years. Still, some did better than others, some developed further than others, some with a stronger sense of nationhood than others. Certainly, many aspects of nationalism, such as judiciary equal treatment, universal suffrage, secular education, institutionalized social services, even internal redistributive policies and programs, proliferated with various degrees of success in different areas of the world at different times. Despite the incontrovertible reality and potency of institutionalized world stratification, the national state did unquestionably become a primary domain of social order as well as a primary vehicle for social change. Nationalism has indeed been a great ideology of peoplehood in this century, for better and for worse.
But most countries are far from being truly national states, not only because of the legacies of racial/tribal/subnational segmentations and enduring peripheral, underdeveloped status, but also due to the induced free migrations of the modern era. With heightened capital mobility and freerer, faster modes of transport, has come heightened trade and labor mobility, and the globalization and integration of the production process on a vast new scale. Enter the ethnic phenomenon, the third archetypal form of peoplehood in the world-system, the product of a worldwide bifurcation, in the era of ubiquitous nation states, of all mobile, commodified labor into a high-status, politically enfranchised and organized "native-born" segment that can travel and relocate without prior state authorization within given "national labor markets," and a low-status, politically disenfranchised "immigrant" segment that requires prior state authorization to travel and relocate across political borders. This segmentation process within all the national states, born out of global structural processes and repeated everywhere, is manifested socioculturally as ethnogenesis and ethnic stratification, the formation and re-formation of hierarchies of ethnicities in subordinate relations with dominant national sociocultural groups.
Now, these ethnicities do not have arbitrary identities, regardless of historic antecedents. "Identities," Eric Wolf says (1996: 97), "do not swim about in the stream of social life like amoebas in fermenting banana soup." They have logics related to the larger structural transformations of our world-system. Ethnic stratification systems within all national states form patterns that align on a world-scale just like compass needles scattered throughout the world follow the contours of the earth's magnetic field. There are high-status ethnicities and low-status ethnicities. Immigrants from core countries have always had higher status than immigrants from semiperipheral countries, and these had had higher status than immigrants from peripheral countries. And the location of the host country itself in the world-system also frames the particular processes of ethnogenesis and ethnotransformation it endures. The ethnotransformation pattern among the Aymara in Bolivia is quite different from, say, that among the Mohawk in Canada, or Italians in the United States and Italians in Argentina.
In the United States, the initial wave of industrial, essentially free, mostly European immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries, concentrated in factory towns and later moved west, forming a succession of ethnic communities that, in turn, facilitated further immigration, a process that engendered and in turn was based on Whiteness. Others that could not avoid the pitfalls of non-white racialization, became exposed to expulsion, persecution, or severe socio-spatial marginalization, as the Mexican migrants experienced in rural agricultural areas or the Chinese migrants experienced in the urban "China towns."
The European immigrants, by the way, were for the most part truly undocumented, in the sense that they were not required to obtain prior visas or bring any kind of document to be able to enter the United States; they were just required to pass the customs health inspections which were set up to guard against the possible spread of infectious diseases. Each wave of "White ethnics" first experienced different degrees of hostility from, and subordination to, the "native-born," themselves the descendants of prior immigrants; but in due time all were afforded the means to undergo upward social mobility and integration into the high-status "native-born" segment itself.
by the 1920s, the labor movements in most core countries, imbued with the
notion of native-born privilege, successfully mobilized to close shut the
borders to immigrant labor competition in each "national labor market."
Most European countries, as well as the United States and other countries,
began to severely limit these kinds of migration flows. But the ethnic
communities had been formed and would continue to experience various kinds
of transformations for some time before their structural class integration
and assimilation to a "national culture." This was the period of "best
fit" between migration and nation-building, especially since it involved
mostly Europeans, deemed by the elites to constitute the preferred stock
for modern nation building. Non-Europeans were relegated to contract migration
flows within the colonial world, where nation-building remained off the
IV. Our Current Multicultural Societies: The Universalism of Nationally Segmented Diversity.
During and after the Second World War, the phenomenon of large-scale guest-worker and former-colonial migration flows from the Third World to the First World took off in the United States and Western Europe, to compensate for severe labor shortages in lower-paying occupational niches, thus ethnicizing those occupations. In the United States this happened at the same time that the civil rights movement was launched and the state began to dismantle the various apartheid-like structures of racial discrimination it had previously erected and enforced. After a brief interlude of generous non-racial immigration laws in the core countries, native labor xenophobia and nationalist/cultural purist backlashes began to assert themselves, calling for the strictest regulation and even legal choking of these two types of non-European migration flows into the core countries. Japan never even opened up to start with, so it did not have to reverse itself.
The momentum of these flows from the world's South to the North, once started, could not be so easily stopped; once they became legally restricted, they found new channels of expression in the form of unauthorized, or illegal, migration. These flows represent classic cases of labor mobility from areas of labor supply to areas of labor demand, no different from their "national" counterparts in pure economic terms, but are subject to great stigma, persecution and exploitation due to the social construction of the national-immigrant antinomy embedded in the nation-state paradigm of peoplehood. Current "neoliberal" doctrine has become committed to the hopeless formula: "Let capital, technology, commodities, raw materials, communications and ideas and beliefs move freely on a global scale, but remember, labor markets are and must remain rigidly national!" And its adherents constitute our current globalists! Cultural purists, nationalists, and white supremacists, on the other hand, do not need to rack their brains to conciliate global processes and national ones, they usually demand insularity from global processes, sort of "each country be its own globe!" Given that this is a fantasy not even Mr. Rostow believes at this stage of the globalization process, the true believers of the nation-state paradigm are seldom allowed on the controls anymore; instead, more serious statesmen and corporate figures manage the world-system as global actors, only nominally as national ones. But others play the "nativist card" and rant and rave about illegals, mostly for local political gain, as California Governor Pete Wilson did in 1994 with his infamous Proposition 187. It was later shelved by the courts and feigned resolute response by the federal government.
So here is the conundrum of diversity in todayís multicultural society: in the last half-century, on the one hand, the old racial and ethnic groups in core countries, especially in the United States, fought hard and won the right to exist as distinct and equal cultural groups within an otherwise common national state, to be given access to common political and economic institutions, and most importantly, to do so without any prior requirement that they shed their cultural repertoire that sustains in them a sense of being a people and replace it with some dominant group cultural repertoire. This has been the endogenous source of the new social compact to build the multicultural national state. Though it has experienced stresses and challenges, the compact is on the main holding in the core countries, and increasingly throughout the world, and is helping to elevate this form of peoplehood to the new paradigm, to the new universalized particularism of peoplehood: the multicultural society.
On the other hand, most core countries and an increasing number of the semiperipheral ones, have been increasingly shutting down their borders to international immigration. This forces the modern process of human migration to increasingly take the form of illegal immigration, a new challenge for the national states already facing them and destined to grow to enormous proportions in the next century. And the notions of multiculturalism and cultural diversity do not begin to address either the global dynamics of these flows or the bifurcation of social status which emanate from the national straightjacket in which labor markets are forced to operate.
W.E.B. Du Bois said in an often-repeated quote that "the problem of the Twentieth Century [would] be the problem of the colour line." In many ways he was right for the first half of the century. But increasingly in the second, and quite apparent now, it looks like the problem of the 21st century will be the border line. The genie of global capital cannot be put back in the national bottle again, not that it ever was contained there to start with - the worldwide geology of race attests to the genie escaping long before the adoption of the national state paradigm. And short of the core countries erecting a new regime of global fascism, there are no effective mechanisms in place to prevent people to move in search of work if they feel compelled to, within and across borders, as nationals or as immigrants. The true emerging multicultural society is global, but it is still segmented into increasingly dysfunctional national multicultural societies.
The new American "Great Wall of China" with Mexico will be as easy to side-step as the new European Union "Great Wall" with eastern Europe and northern Africa will be. People determined to move and seek a better life for themselves and their families ó whether brought along or left behind in their homelands - cannot be easily stopped. But they can be persecuted for it, ascribed low social status, segregated and marginalized from sociopolitical life, and otherwise extensively exploited for their trouble until the second or third generation. That has been the traditional trade off. And once started, it cannot be arbitrarily turned off or declared null and void. Given the extreme global stratification of the world-system today, tens of millions will not hesitate to migrate under any condition in the foreseeable future.
Today, 120-140 million people live and presumably work in countries other than their own; 25 million or so foreign-born reside in the United States, 84% of which are either legal permanent residents or naturalized American citizens, mostly Latinos and Asian Americans. About 30-50 million worldwide are undocumented, 5 million in the U.S. (Lapham 1993, Purcell 1991, Migration News 1997). But by the strident tone of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that recently reemerged in the United States, you might thinks all immigrants to the U.S. are illegal and all illegals go to the United States.
The European Union countries, also recipients of millions of visitors and immigrants (legal and illegal) are building a kind of mega-core-state within which all previous travel, work, investment, commercial and political restrictions are abolished, while at the same time erecting purportedly unassailable walls to keep out others from coming in, not only as legal immigrants and guest workers, but even as visitors. The great irony , of course, is that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was erected by the Soviets to keep their people from leaving to the "Free World" of Western Europe during the Cold War, the European Union finds itself busily building an even more powerful, continental Berlin Wall all around itself to keep these same eastern Europeans and all sorts of other people out. Openly anti-immigrant parties in EU countries now routinely garnish somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the votes in regular elections.
It is a growing world phenomenon. This is a reaction to the new multiculturalism introduced by the increasingly bolder unauthorized migrants from the poor countries, a new multiculturalism practiced by travel across political borders, born in defiance of nationalism and the national sovereign state, and more importantly, in defiance of the dominant status of the core of the world-system itself.
Thus, two entirely different dynamics are at work in the multicultural societies of today, one seeking or celebrating egalitarian pluralism within an integrated national state, the other seeking egalitarian pluralism within an integrated global system. As a result, we can envision in the 21st century the emergence of a two-tier multicultural society in the core ó and even the semiperiphery - of the world-system, assuming, as most analysts do, that the rich countries will opt to severely limit the flows of legal immigration from the worldís South and become veritable fortresses of privilege, rather than commit themselves to sharply reduce global stratification: one tier would be composed of older, domestic racial, and ethnic groups deemed entitled to high social status by virtue of being mostly native-born and, to different degrees, historically rooted, but still culturally distinct and proud to be so, and who will seek to participate in the formal political process; the other tier would be made up of illegal aliens who live in a permanent state of fear of persecution and deportation, are overexploited, are ascribed the lowest social status by virtue of being foreign, poor, and unauthorized, and which will be afraid of openly celebrating their culture and presence or participating in the formal political process, thus compounding their oppressive social condition. Their inevitable rebellion, when it comes, will usher an entirely new type of politics and an entirely new vision of culture and peoplehood, breaking out from the grip of the national state paradigm and redefining sovereignty at the global level.
The commanding heights of global capital, meanwhile, represent the other side of the pincer movement placing unbearable strains on the national state paradigm. The transfer of manufacturing industrial processes to the semiperiphery and periphery and the restructuring of new forms of production and distribution based on new information technologies, have redefined work and spatial configurations in postindustrial societies and have transformed places like Los Angeles, New York, London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong into global centers of control and communications, far surpassing their previous roles as national metropolises tied to national economies. They themselves are production and consumption sites for the world market, and attract people from all over the world as emerging new work and investment places . In these mega cities one finds a clear ethnic segmentation of the local labor markets into very high-wage, high-tech, high-rise corporate jobs, filled by the dominant ethnic groups, and a plethora of very low-wage, mostly subcontracted, service and manufacturing jobs filled by the most subordinate ethnic and migrant groups, jobs that exist plentifully to serve and sustain the former stratum of workers and managers (Sassen, 1988).
At a more analytical level, David Harvey (1989) suggests capitalism may be in the midst of a historical transition from Fordism-Keynesianism to a whole new regime of accumulation, which he calls "flexible accumulation." Global capitalists have clearly been rebelling against the "rigidities" of national development, not just by ignoring national borders, but by exerting great efforts to dismantle the New Deal social contract between capital, the state, and the native working classes which was painstakingly built and honored over the last half century, the very linchpin of the liberal vision of nation-building:
We witness today the colossal competition
among core capitals, re-dividing the world-economy into three spheres of
influence. The suprastatal core zones in Western Europe, North America,
and the Pacific Rim, show striking similarities with previous bouts of
trading bloc mercantilism and financial rivalries. The rest of the world
is being offered a choice: to virtually abolish all trade and investment
barriers and state regulatory power to one or another of these colossi,
and essentially surrender whatever measure of national sovereignty countries
may have achieved in the economic sphere in the preceding "national developmentalist"
era, or, to risk being "left out" and be doomed to economic abandonment,
told to sink or swim as little paper boats loose in the turbulent sea of
globalization . Most countries have opted for the first choice, under the
re-structuring program promoted by global lending institutions and known
as neoliberalism, which once enforced, delivers and locks these countries
into permanent dependency relations with global economic actors and processes
they have little or no control over.
V. The Crisis of Nationhood in North America
In North America, where the First World and the Third World meet, the processes of regional integration - formalized by the NAFTA regime - and neoliberal restructuring in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, have produced some serious dislocations, setbacks, and tensions in the bottom halves of these countries, as well as great concentrations of wealth at the top. "Flexible capitalism" today looks pretty much like "disorganized capitalism," as Lash & Urry (1987) call it, from the point of view of peoples of North America.
The immigration issue, for example, quickly became the scapegoat for the setbacks in the United States. Higher border controls and lower legal immigration caps were clamored for ever more loudly by a growing mix of labor and middle class forces experiencing de-skilling and downsizing, poor social sectors facing de-funding and abandonment, and cultural purists of all stripes, including white supremacists and alarmed national assimilationists. It became, in fact, a national rebellion against the very processes of globalization, misdirected against immigrant labor (and other people, like mothers on welfare), rather than against global capital, but a national rebellion of increasing potency and levels of hostility. The U.S. Congress reacted by running for cover, passing more restrictive immigration laws in 1996 and divesting itself of major social programs, the latter under the guise of devolution of federal power to the states. The giant U.S. corporations, meanwhile, continue to export jobs to low-wage areas of the world-economy in a most "un-American" display of economic behavior without being the least attacked by anyone.
In Mexico, there has been a dramatic polarization of conditions between those sectors that are connected to export/import and those that are mostly domestic. Since NAFTAís implementation, on the one hand, the number of exporting firms increased by 50 %, and most of them produce manufactured goods - today more than 85 % of Mexicoís exports are manufactured products. Both exports and imports, mostly with the U.S., have skyrocketed in volume since 1993. On the other hand, the Mexican peso has suffered several major devaluations and the entire economy contracted dramatically since early 1995, inflation has shot up and real wages have collapsed to pre-1960s levels. Hundreds of thousands of small-to-medium businesses have gone bankrupt, and unemployment and underemployment have reached historic levels not seen since the Great Depression. It is estimated 40 million Mexicans live in extreme poverty and another 20 million live at the brink of that. Crime in the major metropolitan areas has literally exploded - including new types of violent crime like "instant kidnaps" whereby street-abducted victims are driven around in taxis while others empty their checking and saving accounts. Armed conflict exists already in Southern Mexico. The nation is, many analysts believe, at the brink of chaos.
Meanwhile, Mexico went from boasting in 1990 one or two billionaires in the Fortune list of the wealthiest people on earth, to 25 or so today. The concentration of wealth has reached unparalleled heights - just nine individuals possess the same amount of wealth than 48% of the Mexican population. There is now deep and widespread dissatisfaction in Mexico with the magic of the global marketplace. The perception that the privatization of the state sector and the abolition of all trade and investment barriers have surrendered the national sovereignty to the United States, only rivals in popularity the perception of entrenched greed and corruption at all levels of Mexican society. The old, nationalist-developmentalist pact is gone, and with it the legitimacy of the authoritarian political system of rule in Mexico And to add insult to injury, Mexicans are watching on their television sets every night the spectacle of growing xenophobia and brutal human rights violations of their undocumented co-nationals just next door in the United States.
The Mexican American population has been caught in the middle of all this, with one foot past the open door of legitimized domestic multiculturalism, so to speak, and the other foot caught in the slamming door of nativist xenophobia, which has resurrected old anti-Mexican racism. After all, not only was the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 passed in California in 1994, the anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 and the anti-bilingual education Proposition 227 were also passed in that state in 1996 and 1998, respectively.
In Canada, under the strain on sovereignty
placed by NAFTA, globalization has propelled separatist feelings in Quebec
to the point that in 1995, by the narrowest of margins, the province voted
not to secede from Canada. In all probability, next time the French-Canadian
Quebecois secessionist movement will succeed. The rest of Canada, of course,
is not culturally uniform by any means, but itself subject to all the strains
and stresses of the multicultural society, along indigenous, immigrant,
and regional lines of differentiation. Overall concern for the loss of
Canadian sovereignty after NAFTA continues to grow there, too.
We find ourselves at the threshold not only of the 21st century, but of the third millennium of the present era, an era which was inaugurated by the novel and revolutionary Christian idea of the shared universality of humankind in the eyes of a single God. We are now trying to explain to ourselves how, despite two millennia of monotheism, and the fact that world capitalism has erected over the last few centuries a single system of division of labor and economic accumulation, and in so doing promoted transculturation on a gigantic scale, we have yet to construct a single worldwide sociocultural domain of peoplehood, a world-people. Materially and in terms of mass communications, the world has become over the course of our century vastly more interconnected and interdependent than ever before. We are all wired up and we share instantly our most significant news, actions, beliefs, and images.
The 20th-century ends with this paradox : we have built an integrated world through the fragmented, heterogeneous, overlapping peoplehoods piled up from past - and our own - centuries, without achieving universal peoplehood, notwithstanding the shared universalisms with which we have built our repetitive particularisms. We have instead reproduced ordered and segmented hierarchies in social and physical space ó our current, narrow visions of peoplehood, including our narrow vision of globalism itself. These hierarchies are now unraveling and becoming increasingly disordered, without any vision of an alternative universalism or a more egalitarian globalism in view.
Hardly anyone anywhere has been
able to remain unaffected by what happens elsewhere in the world. Distant
events such as wars, technological breakthroughs, global climate changes,
or decisions made at cabinet or board of directors meetings, have altered
and continue to alter our lives' patterns, even our life chances. While
this was partly true in past centuries, it has become entirely true in
the course of this dying century. The time for the elaboration of the conception
of a world-people is therefore now and in the early years of the 21st
century; the historical construction of such a vision will take much longer.
If history is any guide, the reconstruction of peoplehood along the lines
of a new universalism will be highly contested, and even when it is built
will probably not be truly global, truly universal, truly egalitarian.
But not attempting it is worse. Unless we imagine ourselves and do something
essentially new to overcome the centuries of global stratification and
local segmentations, we will find ourselves reproducing a new universal
particularism, another repetitive diversity that reflects, contains, sustains
even worse inequalities, hierarchies, and segmentations than the present
ones. The first step, then, is to simply imagine ourselves anewÖ "to arrive
at what we are not."
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