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Cultural Contact and Global Mashups

Peter Heehs

By Richard Hartz
D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, 2015, pp. ix 270, Rs. 750.00


Globalization: the word is hardly fifty years old but the process has been going on for a very long time. Scholars generally trace its origins to the early seventeenth century, but it is possible to go back much further. The prehistoric migrations that took homo sapiens from Africa to Eurasia to the Americas were the first waves of globalization, setting the scene for all that followed. When sedentary civilizations were established they came in contact with one another through aggression, trade and cultural diffusion. These three motives—politicomilitary, economic, and cultural—remain the driving forces of globalization today. In this fascinating collection of essays, Richard Hartz looks primarily at cultural contacts, especially between what are still called ‘the East’ and ‘the West’—although these terms have now lost much of their meaning on account, precisely, of globalization. How eastern is a software engineer working for a German firm in Bangalore, speaking English as his primary language, and queuing up to see the latest Hollywood film? And how western is a Manchester-born woman who trades in her mini-dress for a burqa, quits her job in a biochemistry lab and flies to Turkey to join the ISIS? Regional cultures still count for something, but global mashups will dominate the future. Increased globalization is inevitable, and the forces propelling it are beyond the control of any organization, much less any individual. But, Hartz insists, our individual choices could still make a difference. We ‘have to think about what kind of global society we want. If another world is possible, what kind of world do we want it to be?’ After stating his central concern in these words, he acknowledges that ‘economic and political issues loom large among the problems’ of the globalizing world. He is chiefly concerned with cultural matters because ‘economics and politics operate in cultural contexts which can no longer be ignored.’ This choice of focus is a natural one for Hartz: he is, the jacket informs us, a scholar interested in Asian languages and cultures, notably Sanskrit literature and the works of Sri Aurobindo. Throughout the book he relates the thought of Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Jawaharlal Nehru and other Asian thinkers to the globalization theories of Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama and other western political scientists. But before examining Hartz’s take on cultural interaction, I want to reflect a bit on the relations between economics, politics and culture in the ...

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