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Introduction

Global Dissonances—Bringing Class and Culture Back In

Allen Chun

The essays presented here stem for the most part from the conference New Cultural Formations in an Era of Transnational Globalization, held on October 6-7, 2001 at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Globalization is a phenomenon maybe as old as human history (especially if one reads Eric Wolf’s “History” religiously); if not, it is certainly synonymous with the rise of capitalism itself, exemplified by “the modern world system,” a term made famous by Immanuel Wallerstein. Yet, judging from the recent flurry of social scientific writing and academic debate on the topic, it might appear that globalization is a new phenomenon, rather than in the literature,3 just a misunderstood one. Whether globalization has just accelerated in recent years, as though as the result of increased time-space compression in David Harvey’s terms, or has mutated into a new form is a worthy topic of debate that has generated heated discussion.4 But in this regard, I think that there is currency for viewing contemporary globalization more constructively as a process of transnationalism. Thus, one is without doubt dealing here with a new or different kind of phenomenon, regardless of whether one regards it literally as a transcendent phenomenon predicated on nation-stateism or as a function of underlying systemic processes that have prompted coalescence of nations toward increased global integration or transparent fluidity. Time-space compression may have blurred our ability to capture the rapid nature of changes that have taken place globally, but this should not blind us from seeing that transnationalism is, in the first instance, less a continuation of an older globalization than a fundamental change in its systemic practices.

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Allen Chun

Contrary to what people tend to think and the way current diplomacy still defines the situation, I argue that Taiwan may very well be the first “transnational nation.” Few recognized its international presence, until it became a major exporter to the world economy, a change of status and policy that was really the consequence of its expulsion from the United Nations (following diplomatic recognition of the PRC). Its subsequent attempts to jockey for admission into the United Nations can largely be seen as a strategy to build upon its newly established role as a world economic player. One significant feature of transnational capitalism is reflected in Taiwan’s success, which demonstrates that the official status of nation was not important or relevant to its development in economic and other terms. Thus, in this era of transnational flows, one might say, national identity, cultural consciousness, and territorial boundedness are clearly secondary. In some senses, this seems to be true, but this is overly simplistic. The end of organized capitalism, as advocated by Lash and Urry (1987), has led many to believe that the free flow of transnational capital has broken down national barriers in respect to all other kinds of flows, but in fact, transnational flows of people have been regulated by and subject to other kinds of forces, political as well as cultural in nature, that have disrupted emerging forms of cosmopolitanism and even threaten to expose deeper conservative if not reactionary biases in the constitution of traditional society. 1 In Taiwan, the growing emergence of transnational cosmopolitanism, runs parallel with the increasing rhetorical importance of multiculturalism. However, the latter is the product more precisely of a wave of cultural ‘indigenization.’ At a deeper level, both (cosmopolitan) ‘transnationalism’ and (indigenous) ‘multiculturalism’ are, in my opinion, largely incompatible and mask an imminent future crisis.

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Ibrahim Aoude, Mohammed A. Bamyeh, Allen Chun, Chuang Ya-chung, Yiu-wai Chu, Andrew Davidson, Sergio Fiedler, Jonathan Friedman, Michael Humphrey, Epifanio San Juan Jr., Owen Sichone, Terence Turner, William H. Thornton and Wang Horng-luen

Notes on contributors