Network Power

Indeed, while this convergence in ways of thinking and living may extend to influence cultural forms like music or food, it need not necessarily do so.  It is striking that in this moment of global integration producing massive convergence in economic, linguistic, and institutional standards, we should be so worried about restaurant chains and pop music, neglecting much more significant issues.  Famously, Sigmund Freud argued that nationalist rivalries between neighboring countries reflected the "narcissism of minor differences," a pathological focus on relatively trivial distinctions driven by the desire to keep at bay an anxiety-provoking recognition of fundamental sameness.

That is from David Singh Grewal’s Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization, one of the most interesting books on cultural globalization in recent years.  He uses the ideas of social networks and peer effects to argue that widespread cultural convergence is occurring, most of all in ways of life.  Here is the book’s home page.

There is much wrong in the central thesis.  "Ways of thinking" may be less diverse across countries (France is more like Germany than it used to be) but ways of thinking are now much more diverse within countries and in fact within the world as a whole.  What’s so special about having diversity distributed according to geographic or political criteria?  Once you get over the geography fetish, many of the author’s main mechanisms don’t hold up as accounts of growing sameness of ways of life and thinking.  Has the author spent much time poking around Second Life?

Nor is he capable of simply coming out and saying that lots of countries in the world *ought* to be doing more to emulate Anglo-American ways of thinking.

The following claim is also questionable:

To reshape or reduce the power that the social structures we create have over us, we can only summon the organized power of politics.  The large-scale voluntarism of sociability, by contrast, has always delivered the most varied and elaborate forms of individual subjugation.

Cranky Tyler is about to come out of his shell, so maybe it is time to end this post.  It’s still a book worth reading and thinking about.

On a not totally unrelated topic, here is a good post on babies and globalization.


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