The Globalizers’ Dilemma
Contention and Resistance in Intercultural Space

by Larry Lohmann

first published 1 September 1995


Different actors contend with and influence what is loosely called “globalization” in different ways. These actors include not only transnational corporations, and political and technocratic elites -- and their more telegenic opponents -- but also figures who do not usually appear in headlines or political science textbooks. Constructive and engaged understanding of the power struggles of all these actors and their resources, motivations, dynamics, strategies, effectiveness, and capacities for alliances requires coming to grips with the idioms in which they interpret and present their own struggles.

This article was written as a chapter in Globalization and the South, edited by Caroline Thomas and Peter Wilkin, published by Macmillan in July 1997.



"To place the South at the heart of our understanding of the global order", as this book intends to do, can mean different things. One is to put the South in the centre of pictures Northerners sketch of the global order. Another is to ask how various groups in the South themselves sketch such pictures.

This chapter tries, in a rudimentary way, to do both. Its subject is the ways in which different actors contend with and influence what is loosely called "globalization". These actors include not only transnational corporations and political and technocratic elites -- and their more telegenic opponents -- but also figures who do not usually appear in headlines or political science textbooks. Constructive and engaged understanding of the power struggles of all these actors -- and their resources, motivations, dynamics, strategies, effectiveness, and capacities for alliances -- requires coming to grips with the idioms in which they interpret and present their own struggles.

These idioms are varied, flexible, and constantly shifting. For political purposes, there is little point in looking for some unitary, privileged essence of how any particular group in the South or elsewhere" really understands itself" (Quine 1960, 1968). At any particular time, how people interpret and present themselves depends on where they are placed, and where they place themselves, in what is an increasingly broad intercultural landscape or field of action. When on a "protected site", as James C. Scott calls it, away from the eyes and ears of others, any particular group may interact with itself through one or another vernacular, "local-friendly" social practice, developing solidarity, settling disputes, hatching schemes, and translating alien ideas it hopes to make use of into local idioms (Scott 1990).1 When aspiring to a more global reach, on the other hand, any such group is likely to find that its identity and actions are understood, and have an impact, mainly, as it were, in translation into other local idioms, in which other ways of resolving differences prevail. The result -- what I will call the "globalizers' dilemma" -- may not be to a group's liking or advantage, but it is a fact around which it must build a political approach.

The Globalizers' Dilemma

Petty merchants in peasant societies often face what Hans Dieter-Evers refers to as the "traders' dilemma". In their own villages, traders need to be ready to keep prices low to conform with the local moral sense that all residents have a right to subsistence security. Outside the village, on the other hand, traders must, in addition to building up solidarity and a distinct identity among themselves, buy and sell at prices which depend on supply and demand across a wide region. They are therefore caught between loss of cash on the one hand and ostracization in their own villages on the other -- either of which can make their activities difficult. One solution is for traders to become a separate ethnic or cultural group with high internal solidarity but often with a lower moral or status position in the village. Another is to try to accumulate cultural capital through religious fervour or conspicuous generosity. Another is to migrate. Still another occurs when the cultural landscape across which traders operate is "simplified" and centralized through the wholesale replacement, down to the village level, of "fair" prices and wages with "market" ones and the conversion of land and labour into quasi-commodities (Polanyi 1944; Thompson 1963). In this case, the traders' dilemma is shifted to the shoulders of the state, which has to subsidize capitalist enterprises yet contain popular outrage about any resulting social and environmental problems (Dieter-Evers and Schrader 1994).

Generalizing Dieter-Evers's analysis, we can say that a "globalizers' dilemma" affects any group which seeks to act across many cultural arenas at once. Bureaucrats, planners, and developers, for example, in their pursuit of revenue, resources, information, and clients, have no choice but, on the one hand, to attempt to recast diverse local social spaces into a recursive pattern legible at a distance to central authorities -- a task requiring decontextualizing devices such as cadastral land surveys, gazettment of forest reserves, titling programmes, citizen registration, censuses, opinion polls, IQ tests, DNA tests, assessments of Gross National Product, cost-benefit analysis, supply/demand forecasts, population projections, formulations of "sustainable yield", master plans, guaranteed "human rights", parliamentary-style representation, and the remapping and rebuilding of gendered commons spaces as locations occupied by economic actors. On the other hand -- and one should never forget that this becomes a personal as well as an institutional problem for globalizers -- they must find their way through the blizzard of consequences which blows back at them from each local area as a result of this attempt to reduce unique spaces to locations on national or global grids. Among these consequences are the institutional incoherence which results when local officials subvert central directives in order to preserve or enhance their position in local hierarchies; the difficulty of monitoring outcomes or gaining customers and clients at the grassroots without the detailed local knowledge that comes only through direct experience; the ecological changes which occur when highly-integrated local-friendly systems of subsistence and stewardship are split into manager-friendly systems of "forestry", "religion", "hydrology", "morality" and "agriculture"; the frequent local irrelevance or triviality of the variables which, say, IQ or DNA tests, cost-benefit analyses, and GNP or "human rights" assessments measure; and popular resistance to being deprived of what is "lost in translation" from the local moral economy into an expert system, exchange mechanism, or supposedly "neutral" imposed political structure or scientific framework.

Something like the "globalizers' dilemma" is also a problem for humbler political actors -- those who resist the centralizing, colonial efforts of, say, transnational corporations, states and international agencies and non-governmental organizations. Indeed, the dilemma tends in one sense to be even more severe for oppressed groups, in that they typically neither want, nor are in a position to demand, as a solution to the dilemma, that all public interaction among different groups take place only in idioms and cultural arenas friendly to themselves. They thus have to be particularly alert to the structure of other idioms and arenas. Where oppressed groups are unwilling or unable to enter alien cultural forums, moreover, or have no credibility there, they may still want allies who are more comfortable in those forums to do so; and this too requires a consciousness of the diversity of such forums and their advantages and disadvantages. Subordinate groups, in short, must not only constantly be sensitive to, but also be prepared to use, in one sense or another, an increasingly wide palette of unfriendly discourses and cultural forums in order to seek alliances or blunt attempts at suppression.

An Algerian anti-fundamentalist activist describes how difficult the resulting dilemma can be:

"[T]he rise of the extreme Right in Europe -- and the subsequent Islam-bashing -- makes it hard for us to know quite how to denounce fundamentalism to foreign audiences without giving fuel to those who demonize Muslims. Inside Algeria we are able to wage a struggle against fundamentalists with great clarity of judgement. But as soon as we go abroad, whether as emigrants or political refugees, we experience a schizophrenic sense of betrayal of our own people and start defending some of the values and politics that we were fighting against within our own country".

(Mahl 1995)

Outside the Algerian milieu, the task of reinforcing the anti-fundamentalist struggle within the country may involve, paradoxically, refusing to talk about anti-fundamentalism or even changing the subject entirely and presenting oneself simply as an Algerian Muslim, if that is what is necessary to defend self-determination or prevent foreign anti-fundamentalist "sympathizers" from doing harm or drawing the conclusion that one's struggle is an endorsement of "universal" Western values. By the same token, other grassroots Southern groups, though they would not normally do so among friends, sometimes adopt, when this is unavoidable, the centralizing languages of science, economics or "development", trying to twist them to advantage or combine them with other, friendlier vocabularies. Social movements, similarly, may gain elite or Northern allies by occasionally adopting the appealing identity of, for example, offbeat "environmentalist" or "human rights" struggles. Whatever qualms a subordinate group may have about the resulting "schizophrenia", the fact is that, with growing cross-global contacts and interdependence, pressures are especially strong not to view any identity as "essential"; nor the strategy or analysis associated with any particular cultural arena (for example, the classroom, the office, the conference, or the published paper) as "the strategy" or "the analysis" to be followed; nor any one role as the only role one can play; nor any one set of actors as the only possible allies. Strategy, analysis and identity cannot be effectively determined a priori outside intercultural space; they must be open to being changed whenever one learns a new language or steps into a new cultural arena.

Even when oppressed groups use local idioms, they have to be sensitive to other vocabularies. They can use such idioms for concealment, for example, only if they know which outside groups can and cannot understand them. When, conversely, an oppressed group finds it possible and tactically useful to try to inveigle potential allies into a dialogue in cultural terms of its own choosing -- as happened on an unusually wide scale during the Zapatista rebellion which was launched in southern Mexico in January 1994 -- it needs to know which alien idioms it must translate most carefully in order to satisfy its interlocutors, and which concepts outsiders are least likely to grasp and thus require special efforts to be communicated.2 At the same time, other things being equal, it must choose the discourse which will best block out or defang the practices it considers most dangerous. All these tactics, although they use local vocabularies, are hardly the result of atavistic, ignorant, doomed, aesthetic, heroic attachments to isolated, static, aboriginal cultural identities or "traditions" suddenly buffeted by a bewildering whirlwind of "modernity" from which they require paternalistic "protection". Rather, they are pragmatic and intercultural, revealing an acute grasp of incommensurable discourses and of their advantages and disadvantages, alone and in combination, for particular purposes. Even a fundamentalist refusal of dialogue may, in some sense, be considered a response to the existence of this intercultural space (Giddens 1994).

The scope of this chapter is too limited for me to be able to illustrate more than a tiny fragment of the politics opened up by the globalizers' dilemma. In the pages remaining, I will confine myself to discussing a small handful of anecdotes which simultaneously reveal (a) a bit of the fine structure of some dilemmas facing economic globalizers in one Southern country, Thailand; and (b) local people's strategic use of local idioms to attempt to gain some hold over the intercultural space in which these globalizers seek to operate. Although this discussion will not even touch most of the topics raised above, I hope it calls attention to one or two often-overlooked dynamics of contention in a way in which, say, a list of "resistance movements" categorized in conventional political-science terms could not do, and thus to call attention to the kind of intercultural micropolitics which, when not grasped, has so often led to disastrous misunderstandings of global macropolitics.

(i) The street vendor and the newspaper office: choice of forum in conflicts over "discipline"

Lek worked for a large daily newspaper in Bangkok. When Lek's mother, a street vendor and former farmer who had helped support her through school and university, wanted to see her, she would simply make her way to the newspaper office and wait. While Lek understood and was deeply sympathetic to this habit, it was also frustrating: Lek, of course, was often in a meeting, off on assignment, or writing a story, and so unable to come out straightaway for a visit. "Mother," Lek said (I paraphrase), "you have to understand, I can't just drop everything whenever you come in. I hate to see you have to waste time." "Never mind, daughter," came the mother's response. "Mother can wait." "But Mother, there are ways of avoiding this. You can call on the telephone before you come in to find out when I'll be free. Then you wouldn't have to wait." But Lek's mother, although perfectly capable of using the telephone or making an appointment, continued to behave as she always had.

This example is about (among other things) time, whose connections to the politics of centralization and globalization have long been stressed by writers as diverse as Thompson (1967), Ong (1987), Giddens (1990), Harvey (1989) and McLuhan (1964). Lek, insofar as she sojourned in the newspaper world, had to abide by decontextualized, "public" time, which, for the convenience of centralized social organization, is the same everywhere and is therefore governed by the impersonal, globally-valid rhythm of the clock. Lek's mother, on the other hand, chose in this instance to abide by what might be called a "commons" time more strictly governed by informal, oral, face-to-face, flexible, non-contractual, locally-valid understandings to synchronize according to the life-rhythms of a particular small group -- comprehension of which is as critical to getting along in most parts of the world as obedience to the clock.3 By treating Lek's schedule as a life-rhythm rather than a clock-rhythm, and signalling her willingness to adjust to it ("Mother can wait"), Lek's mother was putting implicit pressure on Lek to adjust to her personal rhythm as well, and thus to carry on their relationship in commons time rather than public time. This pressure helped to maintain a type of personalized power relation which would have been lost if Lek's mother had yielded to the seemingly "rational" pressure to telephone, make appointments, and so on. Lek's mother, we may surmise, understood the culture of the office, and her potential place in it, rather better than most Western office dwellers understand the culture in which she was choosing to attempt to conduct her relationships, or their place in it. The reality of millions of actions like that of Lek's mother, carried out daily in the streets and offices of cities like Bangkok, is one that transnational corporations and international agencies ignore only at the cost of hostility, losses, and costly restructuring.

It is fascinating to place such examples in the context of the evolving discourse of "disciplining the Other" which has accompanied capitalism and of modern imperialism, and which forms such a central part of national- and international-level politics today. Most past and present Northern elites would say that people like Lek's mother "lack discipline", disagreeing only over whether this deficiency is permanent or not. For colonialists like Cromer and Kipling, Asiatics, bound by climate and geography, would never learn to look at clocks (Said 1987). Hence the need both for imperialism and for Orientalists, specialists in Asiatics' eternal essences. For eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British capitalists, the incipient working class in their own country, too, "lacked discipline", being noticeably reluctant to subject themselves to a wage labour market. This deficiency, however, was held to be at least partly corrigible by means of expropriation of commons, attrition of poor relief, breaking up of trade unions, mechanization, establishment of workhouses, asylums, and Sunday schools, and so forth (Thompson 1963). For the international development establishment of the last 40-odd years, similar "lacks" in the "Third World" have become, in theory, completely corrigible, justifying a wide range of capitalism-led attempts at social engineering ranging from structural adjustment and "women's development" to "empowerment" and population control. As Lawrence Summers, the young ex-Chief Economist of the World Bank and now a US Under- Secretary of the Treasury puts it, "whenever anybody says 'But economics works differently here', they're about to say something dumb" (cited in George and Sabelli 1994).

Not only must everyone have clocks, but everyone will learn to watch them. Summers's Orient, instead of being eternal, is simply past. Either way, of course, that Orient remains temporally Other. The one thing actions such as those of Lek's mother cannot be, on this view, is present (as opposed to a throwback to the past) -- any more than they can reflect a presence (as opposed to an absence, or a lack) of discipline.4

Yet, as the example of the newspaper office suggests, if globalizers flatter themselves that they can "contain" Lek's mother's actions by protesting that she is not "keeping up with the times", she can also "contain" them, in many social environments, through the application of a different kind of social pressure associated with a different discourse. Indeed, all such discourses provide a certain amount of political and economic dynamite enabling their users creatively to "reduce the reductionism" associated with globalization. In rural Malaysia, to vary the example, villagers may mock neighbours who break "implicit time codes" in order to rush around in pursuit of money (Ong 1987); in Colombia, certain peasant groups may view the discipline associated with commoditization as mediated by the devil (Taussig 1980); while in Brazil, personalistic or hierarchial cultural discipline is often used to "encompass" individualistic or egalitarian discipline, as when the jeitinho, or art of "institutional bypass", is brought into play to reshape supposedly universally-valid bureaucratic procedures (Neves de H. Barbosa 1995). Understanding the relationship between globalization and various groups in the South entails learning to look at the office, the airplane, the classroom, and the doctrines of "economic growth" or "human rights" through the eyes of those who see and understand their significance but are able to insist on viewing them from their own angles.

(ii) Pronouns and power: digesting English, processing imperialism

In Thai, as in many other languages, pronouns translated indifferently into English as "you" and "I" signal status, age, occasion, friendship, hostility, gender and wealth. The pronouns pii and nong, indicating an older sibling-younger sibling type of relationship, are often used between seniors and juniors who are rough contemporaries, each element of the pair serviceable as either first- or second-person pronoun. A young couple teasingly deflating each other's pretensions may use the "you"/"I" words tuh and chan. Toughs squaring off or drinking together may address each other aggressively as mueng and koo. Young women can cement their intimacy with eng and khaa. Tahn and khaphajao suggest that formal and elevated proceedings are under way. The first- or second-person child designator noo is used among adults only of and by women. In dignified contrast are the first-person dichan or chan (pome for men), which insist on relations of greater equality, and which are all paired with the unigender second-person khun. Given names, nicknames, and a raft of other kinship and royal terms add to the pronominal repertoire.

The presence in Thailand of increasing numbers of English-speaking advisers, soldiers, tourists, businesspeople, bureaucrats, posed a problem for this way of organizing relationships. What pronouns could be used to encapsulate, in indirect speech, relationships with these non-Thai-speaking intruders, with their money, hardware, tempting offers for the elite, get-rich-quick schemes, awkwardness, assertion, and lack of comprehension? Speaking as if foreigners had addressed you with (say) khun (or any other existing second-person Thai pronoun) would portray them as sensitive to status distinctions to which they were in fact oblivious. Portraying yourself as having addressing foreigners as khun, etc., by the same token, would leave out the fact that your feelings about them -- which might include concealed contempt or amusement at the foreigners' pretensions or lack of subtlety, a sense of superiority to them combined with uneasy respect for their power, bashfulness, defensiveness, and a self-mocking awareness of the awkwardness of the encounter mixed with the desire to turn it to advantage -- were quite different from those you would have in addressing a fellow Thai with the same pronoun.

The ingenious solution was to retool the English pronouns "you" and "I" and transplant them into the Thai language as yoo and ai, assigning them the function of symbolizing Thai-Western relationships or Western-Western relationships. Just as koo and mueng can instantly set the scene between two Thais about to come to blows, or pii and nong affirm a power hierarchy of age between two interlocutors, so, in reported speech, yoo and ai -- whether appearing in the sly mockery of a Thai-language political cartoon or the sometimes-satirical, sometimes-straightforward after-hours conversation of Western embassy employees -- came to denote a particular kind of intercultural and international relationship. The new pronoun pair, in short, was a way of containing, digesting, comprehending, calling attention to, and commenting on both the Thai-foreign relationship and the "egalitarianism" and individualism of English-speaking societies. Even the smallest children came to understand the difference between a yoo-ai relationship and a khun-dichan or eng-khaa one. Although the pronouns used Western phonemes as raw material, the effect was the opposite of capitulation to Western ways. Keeping Thais and Westerners distinct within the Thai world, the new pronouns both shaped solidarity and resistance and sharpened the dilemma of globalizers hoping to integrate Thailand more closely within Western-dominated cultural and social systems.5

The point is hardly restricted to linguistics and manners. Ashis Nandy, for example, has noted that the "placement" of some aspects of the West as a martial, violent, "virile" "Ksatriyahood which has run amuck" may have helped many Indians deal with, and survive under, colonialism. Even the babu or Brown Sahib, whom Westerners like to flatter themselves is a servile, second-rate imitator of their own mores, is, viewed from another angle,

"an interface who processes the West on behalf of his society and reduces it to a digestible bolus. Both his comical and dangerous selves protect his society against the White Sahib [who] turns out to be ... not the conspiratorial dedicated oppressor that he is made out to be, but a self-destructive co-victim with a reified life style and a parochial culture, caught in the hinges of history he swears by... What looks like Westernization is often only a means of domesticating the West".

(Nandy 1983: xv, 108)

The Peruvian activist Eduardo Grillo Fernandez, in a somewhat different vein, speaks of how "imperialism" is "digested" in the Andes. "Life and health in one's own culture", Grillo insists, can be maintained without

"accepting voluntary or imposed isolation. Only in this way does one have possibilities for decolonization, because one has a presence in each of the settings in which imperialism nests, and they are well-understood. The growth of the cities in the Andes ... is mostly due to the affluence of individuals with Andean backgrounds who came to live in the city in order to experience this seductive phenomenon occurring within their environments which the official propaganda presents as desirable. These individuals, however, do not come to live in accordance with civic norms that claim to be universal, nor do they become part of an established order, but instead they do it in their own communal way, Andeanizing the "foreign" city. This allows them to rise above the crisis that they enounter there by confronting it as a collective solidarity and not as nuclear families or individuals ... barriadas ... sheltering migrants from separate rural communities, districts and provnices ... replicate their solidary culture and fiestas in Lima ... side by side with colonial ways that began 500 years ago with the European invasion".

(Grillo Fernandez 1993)

Here again, reality defeats globalizers' self-aggrandizing notion that vernacular practices belong to "the past", while supposed "universalizing" ways lie in "the future".

(iii) The Western consultant and the Karen villager

In the 1980s, Finland's Jaakko Poyry Oy, the largest forestry consulting firm in the world and a key force in globalization of the forestry and paper industry, contracted with Thailand's parastatal Forestry Industry Organization (FIO) to develop a locally-sensitive plan to exploit for lumber certain native pine forests used as sources of water and other subsistence goods by ethnic Karen villagers at Baan Wat Chan in Northern Thailand. At one point in the ensuing struggle over these forests, a Poyry consultant asked a villager how he thought they could best be managed under the plan. The consultant outlined three hypothetical choices. First, individual families in the area could be assigned rights to separate small forest plots to manage as they wished for an on-site sawmill. Second, sub-district or district-level officials could oversee the harvesting of larger areas. Third, management rights to such areas could be granted to separate communities.

The villager straightforwardly rejected all three alternatives. First, he objected to the manner in which the choice was put to him. If such matters were to be discussed and considered, they could only be discussed and considered in the community, not through approaches to separate individuals or opinion polling. Second, the villager said that each alternative would lead to destruction of the forest on which the villagers depended for water and other goods. Putting the forest in the hands of discrete individuals, he explained, would destroy the community and thus the forest. Putting the forest in the hands of government officials, on the other hand, would lead to power imbalances, corruption, and again forest destruction. And putting the forest in the hands of separate communities, while it would create more chances of checks and balances, would lead to inter-community conflict and could not succeed if commercial management were the goal. The only way to preserve the forest, the villager maintained, was (roughly) to leave it defined as neither privately- nor publicly-owned, but as commons (Hildyard et al., 1993), with local Karen maintaining authority over both the means and ends of its use.

Such a thoroughgoing rejection not only of an official initiative, but also of the terms in which it is advanced, is, however often it is wished for by local groups, unusual in a popular struggle -- as is the implicit demand that a local debate take place entirely in a local-friendly vocabulary. What made it possible in this case was not an attitude of heroic defiance on the part of the villager, but rather the fact that a recent, popularly-supported national logging ban had ensured the local Karen of national-level allies in any anti-logging struggle -- allies who were able to carry the struggle into other cultural forums as well. In the course of the battle against Jaakko Poyry's plan, the villagers also did not hesitate to avail themselves of the elite-sanctioned discourse of Buddhism -- holding elaborate "tree-ordaining" ceremonies in which the pines were wrapped in, and thus symbolically protected by, orange robes like those worn by monks -- and of widespread urban middle-class and journalistic concern about the area's rare pine forests. In the context of this intercultural politics, the instrument of brute force on which officials fell back in order to suppress meetings and marches proved weak and clumsy. The Jaakko Poyry project was suspended in 1993. This victory -- though it is unlikely it will ever be acknowledged as such in any United Nations document or political science textbook -- added weight to an accretion of local resistance which continues to constrict and channel attempts to centralize and globalize control of Thailand's resources.


In an era of increasing global contact and interdependence, there exists no single local perspective -- including that of those local traditions that describe themselves collectively as "modernity" -- which can by itself reveal all of the springs or potential of any particular movement contesting imperialism, development, centralized planning, or the spread of global capitalism. Nor does there exist any single cultural arena within which alone the resulting struggles can be played out. In this chapter I have tried to challenge both what Dean MacCannell (1993) calls the "White Culture" idea that politics can or should be housed in a single forum or language and the "traditionalist" idea that resistance flows outward from an isolated cultural identity which predates or floats free from intercultural space and time. Inhabiting a particular cultural system, even a familiar one, need not mean that it is permanently central to one's identity, merely that it has its own advantages, satisfactions, or strategic uses as a "playing field" at certain times of struggle.

These conclusions allow us to gain a certain sociological distance from a number of classical political strategists' dichotomies: for example, reform vs. revolution, cooperation vs. noncooperation, and "being coopted" vs. "proper resistance" (cf. Foucault 1980). A movement which, to ease its "globalizers' dilemma", needs to operate in many different forums at the same time, may acquiesce in the translation of its struggle into the terms of neoclassical economics in one forum while (perhaps through allies) criticizing the entire framework of economics elsewhere; may support steps toward reform in one cultural forum while, through allies, actively pursuing revolutionary change in another; and may cooperate with the authorities where unavoidable while (again, perhaps through allies) defying them elsewhere. The frequent impossibility or irrelevance of programmes of liberal "compromise", and the need to fight in many arenas at once without being sucked into any single "approved" version of resistance, are, paradoxically, two sides of the same coin of intercultural struggle. As Nandy observes, resisters must remain aware of the West's skills at producing "not only its servile imitators and admirers but also its circus-tamed opponents and its tragic counterplayers performing their last gladiator-like acts of courage in front of appreciative Caesars" (1983).

Also brought into question by the conclusions of this chapter is a cluster of views according to which social change (or at least "damage control") is necessarily above all else a matter of pressuring or massaging "the powerful" in their preferred idioms; re-educating "world leaders"; "changing society's paradigm"; carefully formulating a utopian "blueprint for change" and then "implementing" it; "determining concrete goals and then convincing others to act on them"; "seizing the state apparatus"; "influencing the UN"; "taking control of the media"; "attempting to overturn the world system"; and the like. This cluster of views assumes that power and thus social change must always be primarily a matter of acting within, or expanding, a single cultural forum, consciousness, or "paradigm", outside of which power is sometimes held not even to exist. Little attention is given to strategies for acting interculturally, and without a single guiding or coordinating "subject", in a many-centred mosaic of overlapping forums, each with its own forms of power and possibilities of change. Because they fail to take full account of what I have called the globalizers' dilemma, groups whose resistance strategies are guided by one or another of this cluster of views become exceptionally vulnerable to it (Ferguson 1994).

In its emphasis on the radical diversity of sources, resources, and limitations of resistance, this chapter has picked out threads which tend to run across boundaries between North and South. The intercultural nature of struggle against oppression, for example, is hardly news to North American or European women of any colour, who daily have to operate in a space consisting of a variety of contrasting webs of power both on and off "protected sites", in the office, the street, and the household, using both "men's" and "women's" dialects (Gilligan 1976; Tannen 1992). Nor will it be unfamiliar to many local environmental activists in the North who, at least on their own "protected sites", use languages and other social practices of the commons in opposition to those of economics, planning, and the public/private dichotomy (Hildyard et al., 1993, The Ecologist 1995).

On the whole, however, it is not unfair to say that Southerners are more versed than Northerners in intercultural politics, partly because of the greater current prevalence in the South of clashes between subsistence and capitalist economies, orality- and literacy-based cultures, personalistic and impersonalistic social structures, communal and individualistic styles of action, and so on. In a Southern country, to make just one comparison, if a consultant undertakes a cost-benefit analysis of a controversial hydroelectric dam, or conducts an opinion poll in a remote rural village containing questions like "Would you like to have a washing machine in your house or not? Please answer yes or no," the choice of these techniques is in itself likely to be treated by local people as political and cultural aggression on the part of central authorities. In the North, by contrast, such techniques are more easily mystified as "unbiased aids to rational decision-making" or a "democratic sounding of popular opinion".

Awareness of the globalizers' dilemma, too, tends for obvious reasons to be sharper in the South than in the North. On the ground in Chiapas or Chiang Mai, it is simply common sense that what "Third World development" (for example) claims to do and what it really winds up doing have little to do with each other. In the high-rise meeting-rooms of London or Washington, this is still an atrocious, intolerable paradox, open discussion of which is barred not because it is taboo, but because it is nearly inconceivable. A diplomat based in Zaire recently remarked sardonically that according to World Bank statistical indicators of economic welfare, most people in the country should be dead by now. It would hardly be surprising if, being alive, such people had learned to take a critical and watchful stance toward the categories in which they are placed by others.6


1 The multiplicity of such "local-friendly" or "protected-site" idioms is likely to persist and to continue to figure in the way Southerners interpret themselves to themselves and to others. While the last few centuries have eroded the boundaries around many former "protected sites" by eliminating languages, turning land and labour into quasi-commodities under more centralized control, and spreading "development" (Polanyi 1944, Thompson 1963, and see Chapter12), divisions of labour, differences in class and interests, and other forms of social diversity show little inclination to wither away, and new boundaries and sites are constantly being formed. Detailed, uniform responses, moreover, will never be elicitable over wide areas, even in cooperative subjects, from a distant central location through sets of decontextualized rules (Wittgenstein 1953; Collins 1987, 1990), and it will continue to be difficult to replace highly-localized commons with "universal" public or private goods without massive damage and disruption resulting. Rural Southerners and the shrewder variety of capitalist planner alike have learned, moreover, that the supposedly universal logic of "economics" and of "development" not only cannot deliver the goods it promises but that, pushed too far, is counterproductive (Hildyard et al., 1993; The Ecologist 1995; Illich 1981, 1982; Norgaard 1994; Sachs 1992; Escobar 1995; Ferguson 1994). Even multinational businesses, once optimistic that cultural homogenization would provide an outlet for the large-scale production of uniform commodities in which they specialized, have come to the realization that the "apparent convergence between different cultures has not gone as far as they thought" and are shifting their production and marketing strategies accordingly (Economist 1995).

2 When, two hours after the North American Free Trade Agreement came into force on 1 January 1994, thousands of Indians occupied four of the main towns in Chiapas and declared war on the Mexican government, their rebellion was immediately and deliberately portrayed from high levels as a lack of either rationality or of development. On the one hand, President Salinas' categorization of the event as a foreign-led communist insurrection, plus the call of the international financial community to wipe out the Zapatistas, gave sanction to military suppression. On the other, institutions such as The Economist lost little time in reinterpreting the Chiapas uprising as a sign of "underdevelopment" and "overpopulation" -- i.e., a sign that yet more economic integration and foreign investment was required. Such attempts to "mute" resisting voices have the effect -- and to some extent are meant to -- of making events such as the Chiapas revolt look bewildering, alien and inexcusable to Northern publics. The Zapatistas' intercultural tactical skills, however -- including their humour, openness to dialogue, and talent for flouting the expectations of outsiders -- helped make them capable of insisting on being treated as a presence rather than an absence to be filled. By prolonging the dance of interpretation and counter-interpretation, they gained both time and bargaining power, and succeeded in communicating at least a few of their aims to a wide Mexican and international public, among them an end to 500 years of oppression and 40 years of "development" and a chance to reclaim their own "art of living and dying" and foster post-economic forms of social life (Esteva 1994, EZLN 1994).

3 What counts as "late" or as "wasting time" in the framework of public time is determined by the clock (and, of course, by the political interests clustered around it) and can be corrected by adjusting one's rhythms more closely to it. What counts as "late" in commons time, on the other hand, is determined by the feelings and actions of others one knows personally and can be corrected by adjusting one's rhythms more closely to theirs, whether those rhythms coincide with clock time or not. If every participant at a meeting shows up an hour after the agreed-upon time, they are all "late" in the framework of public time, but not necessarily "late" in a commons time framework. Conversely, someone who is "on time" according to a public conception may, under certain circumstances, be "late" according to commons time. Commons time is hardly confined to the Asian continent. In Brazil, for example, competitive swimmers tend to measure themselves not against "the clock", or against some impersonal programme of self-improvement, but against whoever is competing against them at a particular time; while at meetings, as in Thailand, "the clock waits for people instead of people waiting for the clock" (Kottak 1995). As Subcomandante Marcos has noted of the 2 am start of the Chiapas revolt, "as usual, we were late."

4 This attitude is, of course, not confined to the North. At a meeting in March 1995, the head of one of Thailand's leading conservation organizations asked a village leader how, if local people remained in control of a local community forest, they could possibly prevent the area from being overrun by outside mushroom-gatherers. Although he was striving to be sympathetic to her defense of grassroots forest conservation, her answer -- that local villagers would exclude outsiders who planned to market their gatherings but would allow others in, provided no damage was done, if their aim was subsistence -- clearly surprised him in its cogency. He was conceptually unprepared for a "discipline" which was neither public nor private, depending neither on the state nor on business.

5 As Edmund Leach (1954) wrote of Northern Burma, long before "globalization" became a buzzword:

"In any geographical area which lacks fundamental natural frontiers, the human beings in adjacent areas of the map are likely to have relations with one another -- at least to some extent -- no matter what their cultural attributes may be... But ... if social structures are expressed in cultural symbols, how can the structural relations between groups of different culture be expressed at all? My answer to this is that the maintenance and insistence upon cultural difference can itself become a ritual action expressive of social relations."

Or as Nandy (1983) puts it, "familiarity can breed distance, too".

6 Thanks for helpful editorial advice to Sarah Sexton and Nicholas Hildyard and for financial support to Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung.


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