Cambridge Book Review

[Issue #6, Fall 2001]

La Globalización Imaginada
By Néstor García Canclini
Buenos Aires: Paidós, 1999

Reviewed by Nancy Bird

In La Globalización Imaginada, Néstor García Canclini, a well-known Argentinian-Mexican scholar, author also of Culturas Híbridas, declares globalization an "unidentified cultural object." He describes its often imaginary character and contrasts this with its more rigid version, which is referred to as globalism. That is, there is interconnectedness and possibilities for diffusion of different cultures, as well as the reduced manifestation in which it is perceived that "no country could exist with rules that are different from those that organize the system-world" (translation mine). Globalization -- as an economic, political and sociological process -- does not mean or represent the same for everyone. Distinctions persist. The thought of everybody having the same access to the benefits of globalization has more to do with its imaginary aspect, and not with its different and often contradictory realities. What does it mean then to live in and within the limits of this "unidentified cultural object"?

García Canclini gives us an anthropological, economic, and sociological account of what globalization implies. He cleverly brings together all these fields in his discussion, thus underscoring the notion that in the context of globalization, one of the main assets is the possibility to draw from different disciplines. We're allowed to ponder how, for example, having access to certain music, art, or literature, or even a certain type of clothes, is at the same time an economic and political and cultural issue. Such questions help us to examine how globalization disguises itself as globalism, making some choices more like prescriptions, with the individual never questioning where access derives from. It is important to mention that García Canclini does not give a concrete definition of what globalization is, but rather compiles socio-political and anecdotal evidence, thus pointing to what globalization is not and stressing the fact that it refuses uniformity in its reach and implications.

As globalization implies interconnectedness, mobility and new perspectives on multinational corporations, it sheds both light and complications on questions of identity, be it national, ethnic or linguistic. It is in the migratory movements and communication within and among social groups that new questions are raised and some labels and classifications are put to the test (i.e., to be an "American," to be "Hispanic," to be "Mexican-American"). García Canclini talks about hybridization and the manner in which new blendings and perspectives on identity are set forth. It does not mean that a Cuban dancing to country music has ceased to be "Cuban" or has become "American." The question is why and when mainstream forces decided that it was the right time to let country or Latin music, for example, gain momentum. These and related questions are raised by García Canclini, taking into consideration the dilemmas of globalization as a capitalist enterprise, which on the one hand has the goal of homogenization, while on the other needs to draw from multiplicity itself. In other words, the phenomenon here described as the "imagined globalization" is neither a fundamentally negative or positive force; it is a cultural matter that has integrative and at the same time conflictive expressions in the arts. La Globalización Imaginda should appeal to individuals in different disciplines and is a good point of departure for cultural studies in literature and other narratives.


Nancy Bird is a doctoral student in Hispanic literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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