Globalization beyond Westernization
The city becomes the dominant theme in political legends, but it is no longer a field of programmed and regulated operations.
Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life
Of course, Egypt was never isolated from the rest of the world. Trade, travel, diplomacy, and pilgrimage connected Cairo with other cities. The Geniza documents revealed a cosmopolitan Cairo that, since the tenth century,
In addition to the spatial transition from Bulaq to al-Zawiya, the study traces a temporal transition from the late 1970s into the 1990s. It shows how these two transitions contextualize memories of the past, uses of space, desires of consumption, dreams of travel, and constructions of identity. Abu Hosni and his neighbors are not fax users, e-mail receivers, jumbo jet travelers, or satellite owners. They are part of Cairo's lowincome groups whose experience of globalization is structured by their economic resources and position in social space. They, especially men, experience global discourses and images through their movement in the city, their interaction with foreigners (as employers and tourists), and their work in oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya. Working in one of these countries is often seen as the only hope for young men to secure an apartment, a necessary requirement for marriage, and various consumer goods, which are rapidly becoming signs of distinction. Many of them come back from abroad with color televisions, VCRs, tape recorders, carpets, and Moulinex blenders. Families without relatives working abroad participate in saving associations (gam‘iyyat) to secure money to buy such goods. Above all, many of Abu Hosni's neighbors experienced the forces of globalization in their displacement from their neighborhood in the center of the city. Their houses were demolished to be replaced by buildings and facilities that catered to upper-class Egyptians, international tourists, and the transnational community. Relocation, therefore, is one concrete example of the structured globalization of Cairo that I discuss in this book. It is important to emphasize here that relocation is only one force, albeit a very important one, that shapes people's current identities, practices, and memories of the past.
Recent theoretical developments in anthropology and cultural studies have demonstrated that the growing flow of information, capital, and labor between different parts of the globe is not producing one unified culture (Lash and Urry 1994; Featherstone 1995; Appadurai 1996). Rather, global processes and practices are being juxtaposed in complex ways in “local” contexts (Hall 1991a. 1993). Thus, contrary to the old conceptualization of the world as becoming a “global village,” local differences and identities are not eradicated but are being supported in many cases by global forces and processes (Hall 1991b1993); Ray 1993; Massey 1994). My ethnography aims to highlight the significance of grounding our theorization of globalization and locality in concrete experiences and precise enactments. This grounding is essential to account for the multiple flows that shape social imagination and cultural practices in different contexts. If we are to recognize that social agents in different parts of the globe are doing more than simply rejecting or passively absorbing global discourses, images, and goods, we need ethnographies and rich contextualization that capture how global trajectories operate, the contradictory desires they stimulate, the competing identifications they generate, and the structures of feeling that they facilitate. It is important, I aim to show, to go beyond the current explicit or implicit division of the globe into the West and the Rest. There is much talk about “compression of the world” (Robertson 1995), “time-space compression” (Harvey 1990; Massey 1994), transnational connections (Hannerz 1996), and global flows (Appadurai 1996). In spite of this, however, globalization is still viewed as essentially flows between the West (or the rich North) and the Rest (or the poor South). This view has been taken for granted in previous attempts that have aimed to show that the globe is being “homogenized” or “Westernized,” and it is still largely present in recent studies that aim to show the complexity of the articulation between global forces and local contexts (see, for example, Hall 1991a. Hannerz 1996; Featherstone 1995; Sassen 1996). Such a view excludes a major part of the complex flows that are central to the growing connectedness between different parts of the world and weakens the analytical potentials of the concept of globalization. The problems with such a view are clearly seen in how globalization is frequently reduced to notions such as “neocolonialism,” “McDonaldization,” “cultural imperalism,” “Americanization,” “clash of civilizations,” or even “Jihad versus McWorld” (Barber 1995; Ritzer 1996; Huntington 1993; Waters 1995).
While the “American conception of the world” (Hall 1991a. 28) may be hegemonic in various contexts, people experience the influence of a multiplicity
Globalization, especially through the media, is introducing new forms of identification among the subjects of its processes. People in al-Zawiya al-Hamra, for instance, enjoy watching television, especially global sports events such as the World Cup in soccer. Young men and women follow these games very closely; they know the names of the Brazilian, German, and Italian players. While they are watching these games, different identities compete for priority: the audience shifts from supporting African and Arab teams to cheering for any team from the third world when they play against Europeans (Brazil against Germany, for example). The 1998 championship, which took place while I was visiting al-Zawiya, was of special significance because it revealed another dimension of the growing complexity of identification in the context of increasing movement of people and images between different parts of the globe. On the basis of my observation of the 1994 championship, I expected that most people would support the Brazilian team in the final match. In 1998, however, there was strong support for the French team. Many felt that the Brazilian team was arrogant and careless, especially after they lost to Norway, which caused an early end to the participation of the Moroccan team. Most, however, supported the French team because it had several African players, including, most important, the Algerian Zineddine Zidane. The joy of victory was tremendous when Zidane scored two goals and secured the championship for France. Many supported Zidane because he was “Arab” and Muslim. This exemplifies how people do not experience globalization as a coherent set of discourses and processes that is transmitted
Central to the globalization of Cairo is the circulation, largely facilitated by the development in media and communication systems, of discourses and images of “modernity.” Men and women in al-Zawiya al-Hamra are not outside the discourses and processes of modernity. They struggle daily with various aspects of what they perceive to be “modern.” Notions of “modernity” are embedded in various aspects of the daily life of the people, even though they rarely reduce it to a single bounded definition. Only when I started asking them about how they understand modernity did they try to present a definition. Most often, however, they ended up providing concrete examples of what it means to be modern, which are referred to in the following chapters. For now, it is sufficient to emphasize that rather than assuming that except in the cases of Europe and Japan, “modernization occurred under dependent conditions, which led to distorted, inauthentic modernity” (Sharabi 1988: 22), this book examines modernity as a set of discourses and processes that emerged in Europe (Giddens 1990; Berman 1988) but have been widely circulated and selectively appropriated by various social groups in different parts of the world. Rather than searching for an essence that defines “modernity” or assuming that there are multiple alternative modernities (Miller 1995; Watts 1996), this book examines concrete struggles that illustrate how notions of the “modern” are contested, made, and remade in Cairo. In short, I want to focus on “the politics of selection.” What makes modernity unique in a country like Egypt is the people's view that it is not a master narrative that should be taken or rejected as a whole. Instead, there is a general feeling that one should be selective about what to appropriate and what to discard. Thus, the next chapters address questions such as: Who appeals to “modernity,” and what defines a discourse, an object, an image, a space, or a practice as modern? How are various discourses and images that are viewed as “modern” appropriated and reworked to empower and/or to control certain groups as well as to construct and transform specific identities?