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Going Global

Seven University of Chicago faculty discuss how worldwide homogeny is affecting their fields.

PHOTO:  Going GlobalThe signs are everywhere, and they're impossible to ignore: one language disappears from the earth every ten days; space shuttle launches are so commonplace that networks don't bother televising them anymore; 2.3 percent of today's world population works outside of their home country; the Internet has become so ubiquitous so fast that children are teaching their parents how to install Web site-blocking technology on the family computer. Call it what you want-globalization, modernization, Disneyfication, the brave new McWorld-there's no getting away from the technological dead sprint which, over the past 100 years, has come closer every day to making "cultures" obsolete in favor of a single world "Culture."

Since Claude Levi-Strauss pointed out in his 1955 Tristes Tropiques the impossibility of studying the culture of another people without also infecting them with your own (not a radically new idea, but a benchmark confession in the social sciences), the notion of "the other" has taken on a gradually diminishing role in the relationship between encounterer and encountered, while its actual presence has become an everyday event, leading to an international homogenization unparalleled in world history.

Globalization is the favored term today-a thick, juicy word that begs for quotation marks and qualifiers, a perfect fit in postmodern academia for its intentional vagueness, its all-encompassing bear hug, the way it weighs on the tongue like heavy cream. But no matter the unwieldy nature of the term, the phenomenon it describes is very real, and its massive scope and cross-disciplinary appeal has attracted academics around the world-to celebrate it, to decry it, and to study it.

We asked some Chicago scholars to examine their particular fields through globalization-colored glasses, to examine the interconnectedness of cultures, to tell us how their fields effect, and are affected by, globalization. This is what they told us. -C.S.

Anthropologist and cultural psychologist Richard A. Shweder:
From "Free Trade" to "West is Best"

Linguist Salikoko Mufwene:
Languages don't kill languages; speakers do

Sociologist of religion Martin Riesebrodt:
The revival of religion in times of change

Sociologist Saskia Sassen:
Detecting the global inside the national

Human-rights advocate Jacqueline Bhabha:
Weak players in a strong market

Film historian Tom Gunning:
The world goes to the movies

Anthropologist Arjun Appadurai:
New questions for a new world


  DECEMBER 2000

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