Upon our reading of Hall’s “The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity”, Chloe and I immediately drew parallels to our shared abroad experience this past spring in Kenya. Kenya is certainly a (rather new) nation-state attempting to secure and maintain a foothold for themselves within the context of the African continent and in the larger context of our global community. However, this process has several implications for its people, including their struggles to conform to the pressures and realities of globalization, while maintaining a sense of nationalism. “You go around the entire globe: when you know what everybody else is, then you are what they are not. Identity is always, in that sense, a structured representation which only achieves its positive through the narrow eye of the negative” (Hall, The Local and the Global, 21). For many Kenyans, defining who you are ethnically, and where you come from, is in a power struggle with being Kenyan. It has been my experience, that as Americans, we tend to downplay past lineages, and rather prefer to use the broader label of being American. While certainly not attempting to speak for every American citizen, I was a trend that I noticed during my time abroad. It was definitely a unique experience being asked who am I? or where I was from, and having the answer, I’m from the US, be less than satisfactory and requiring elaboration.
Colonization and independence had a multitude of effects for Kenyans, and has ultimately left them in a unique “gray” area of development. There are so many indications and examples of globalization in this country, but there are also so many people who have been “left behind”. It was so startling some times to see Yankees tshirts or vintage basketball jerseys in very rural areas of the country, but also very interesting. As an American who has spend a vast majority of her life living within our boarders, the opportunity to step outside and see the portrayal of the US and just how far our commercialism and materialistic values have spread was both impressive and depressing.
I think the two systems of globalization that Hall lays out for us have had profound effects, including the spread of materialism and commercialization as positives – whether they are or not is up for individual interpretation. Hall explains “old globalization” as being dominated and run by the interests of nation-states (a term which has political and cultural implications), and is successful via imperialism and colonization. I find it almost impossible not to draw connects to this system and how the US rose to one of the most powerful and influential countries of our world. Other world powers certainly used this to their advantage as well. However, I think there is also a lot to be said for Hall’s “new globalization”; where nation-states hold less power than before, and there is this emergence of a global mass culture. Not ironically, this global mass culture is centered in the West, and tends to be associated as American. So, while other nation states are losing power due to an increase in an “American” global mass culture, I would hesitate to say that the US is suffering the same reality.
However, I do think that there is an interesting and cooperative relationship between the local and the global, which Hall states is due to the transition from “old globalization” to “new”. This push-pull, constantly negotiating dynamic gives rise to one of Hall’s central points: ethnicity, defined as an expression of the local in relation to a specific globalization project. One is not digging up from the past static or non-contextualized histories of who one is, but rather things that have meaning and relevance in the present. This was very evident in Kenya; people tightly gripped the rural communities and ethnicities of their families and blended that in with who they saw themselves as within their urban lifestyles.