Globalisation and Identity

Manuel Castells

Sociologist, Barcelona

The aim of this paper is to set out the results of my investigations and my theory on the relation between globalisation and identity, understood mainly as a problem of an institutional and political nature. Based on empirical experience, it has been observed that in the last fifteen years, the development of the globalisation process and the reaffirmation of different cultural identities, such as religious, national, ethnic, territorial, gender and other specific individualities, have coexisted in the world. The two processes are developing at the same time, and in my opinion, there is a systemic relation rather than a simple historical coincidence.

At first sight, this conclusion is not such an obvious one, because at a certain point the globalisation process invokes the idea that it also calls for a global and cosmopolitan culture. At that point two versions emerge: on one side, that which speaks of unification and the cultural homogenisation of the world, as critical of this process; and on the other, the idea that specificities will be overcome, as will the identitary historical atavisms of some ideologies, to blend into a kind of undifferentiated universal culture in which we will see ourselves culturally as a single culture related to the human race.

Thus, in both the positive and the negative standpoints; in both the vision of a search for a new universalistic culture beyond identitary values, and the fear of the imposition of a cultural homogenisation that is sometimes called Americanisation, though wrongly in my view, lies, in one sense or another, the idea that specific identities are over and that they are no more than historical atavisms. This assertion, linked to globalisation and to economic development, is essentially no more than a continuation of the two main rationalisms on which the contemporary world is culturally and ideologically founded: liberal rationalism and Marxist rationalism.

In both cases, the denial of the historical, religious or ethnic construction of identities serves as the basis for the affirmation of the primacy of a new ideal: that of the world citizen or the Homo Sovieticus, with different types of relations but overcoming any other distinction that could be considered artificial, ideological, manipulated and so on. I stress this because at present it is the prevailing ideology in our society, and above all in Europe.

It is the rationalist ideology in the dual liberal and Marxist position, and an ideology that sees identities as a suspicious, dangerous, and probably fundamentalist discourse, whether formed on a religious, national or ethnic base. I believe that this is extremely important, and that this issue therefore penetrates the roots of the problems currently facing our world. I will try to explain why. We have numerous sources in the form of various surveys that have been carried out over time by universities, which empirically demonstrate the persistence of identities and of the identities constructed culturally as the main element of meaning for people.The principal source of this data is the World Values Survey, principally promoted by Professor Inglehart, from the University of Michigan, who for a long time has been able to demonstrate both the persistence and the transformation of these identities.

Before exploring this subject, I would like to refer to data analysed by Professor Pipa Norris, from Harvard, using the information of the World Values Survey on the comparison between identities in the international, national, regional or local fields, and on the comparison of these identities with cosmopolitan identities or of human gender identities in general. In the data corresponding to the two waves of analyses from the beginning and end of the 1990s, Pipa Norris calculates that, on a world level, the proportion of those who consider themselves primarily world citizens, that is, cosmopolitan, amounts to 13%; the percentage of those who consider themselves primarily as having a national identity understood as nation-state is 38%, and the rest, the majority, consider themselves as primarily having a local or regional identity. We should note that in this database Catalonia and the Basque Country appear as regional identities.

Moreover, when the results are broken down into world geographic areas, it is revealed that the area where the degree of primary local regional identity is the greatest, constituting 61% of all senses of identity, is indeed south Europe. This is just an example, which illustrates that we must start by acknowledging the persistence of the strength of such identities. However, we must also acknowledge something more than the combination of a globalisation in which the generation processes of power, wealth and information are global, with an identity in which the processes of construction of meanings are specific to cultures and identities. These two processes have provoked the crises both of the nation-state constituted during the Modern Age as an institutional instrument of societies, and that of the nation-state as an efficient instrument for the management of problems.

Problems are global, they cannot be managed nationally, and unless there is a fusion of a nation with regard to plural principles as a source of identity, a crisis of the capacity of representation of a world of cultural plurality will be generated. This is the issue that I would like to explore in depth, but I believe it is always useful to know where we are heading before going down a relatively complex path. In the first place, we should remember that globalisation is not an ideology, but rather an objective structuring process of the economy, societies, institutions and cultures as a whole. Moreover, globalisation does not mean that everything constitutes an undifferentiated set of processes.

We speak of globalisation in economics, for instance, to refer to a kind of economy that has the capacity to work as a unit in real time on a daily basis. In other words, that particular economy is global, but the entire economy is not; that economy has the capacity to function in relation with its central activities. The central activities are the capital and the financial markets. Financial markets are interdependently global, whether in market economies or if the capital is global, in capitalist economies. Economy in its base is global. It is interdependent and it is global in international trade, which occupies a place in world economies that is gradually more central and more decisive; it is global in its production of goods and services, but only the centre of the economy is global, not the entire system. As an illustration of this, the majority of the labour force is not global. Multinational companies and their auxiliary networks only employ around two thousand million workers. This seems high, but in reality, compared with a world labour force of three thousand million, it is irrelevant.

However, those two hundred million in each of the fifty-three thousand multinational companies represent 40% of the gross world product and two thirds of the international trade. In this way, the developments that take place in this system of production condition all the economies. Science and technology, which are the basis of the growth of wealth and military power, and also of the states and countries, are globally amalgamated, and are therefore global forces.They are networks of knowledge that are established throughout the entire world at points that are of greater or lesser importance, but they are global networks. Communication is fundamentally global, at least in the financial and technological controls of communication.

Seven large communication groups control the production of 50% of all audiovisual material and news broadcast. However, this does not mean that the culture of these media is all globalised. There is a process of globalisation of the information business and management, but it is specified, and localised within each culture. An example of this is the fact that in the United States Murdoch produces soap operas following the classic American models, but Sky Channel in England adapts itself to the English tradition. In India Sky Channel broadcasts in Hindu, and in Madras the language is Tamil and the characters are local; and Sky Channel in southern China broadcasts in Cantonese and emits local stories. In contrast, in Beijing and in the north of China the broadcasts are in Mandarin and of different stories. In other words, the formula, and the business and strategy are based on global communication, while the relations are obviously created with specific cultures and identities, because otherwise the companies would be unable to market or publicise its information.

Thus, to a certain point, the idea is that this process of globalisation was in existence, and moreover has been developed into a series of international institutions that play an ever-increasingly important role in the management of problems. The notion has evolved of global public commodities that require global management, such as the environment.Although at present the Bush Administration states that it does not believe in the reports of experts, these reports are unanimous in that global warming exists. What is not yet known is the size of the problem, but its existence is no longer in doubt.

Global warming and the mechanisms to avoid it are a common global good and therefore the set of treaties on the environment and devices of environmental control are for the public global good. Human rights that move the International Penal Court are also values that are globally and universally embraced. If anybody doubted the existence of an interrelation of health problems throughout the world, the SARS epidemics after AIDS serve to remind us to what extent we live on a planet where if poor people fall ill, so do the rich. Canada protests its inclusion on the list of contaminated countries with its assertion that it is a rich country, to which the response is “Yes, but you are also contaminated.” Thus, apart from the domestic policy of the United Nations on the issue, what seems evident is that the relation of interdependence goes beyond what used to be simply a relation between nations and countries.

This globalisation has a technological infrastructure, though this is not the cause of globalisation. The principal causes are economic strategies, cultural developments, and the creation of markets, which however without this technological infrastructure could not have existed. In other words, the financial capital has always been global: it can transfer thousands of millions of euros in seconds from one investment to another, and this capacity of communication and information systems is technological and contemporary. For this reason the current globalisation is not the same as previous globalisations because this time it is based on communication and information technologies that allow the suppression of distances between countries. Moreover, we know that this globalisation is both inclusive and exclusive at the same time. Inclusive of everything that is valuable, and exclusive of everything that is not.

Thus, the essentially economic globalisation is a selective globalisation. Due to this, the states, governments and companies of each country attempt to situate themselves within this global network, because on the outside there is no growth, no development and no wealth. If there is no possibility of investment of financial capital or technology in a country, that country, or region or sector of population, is marginalised from the global economy. Thus, from this point of view, globalisation has both an inclusive and exclusive logic, and we are not involved in a North-South opposition, rather in an opposition of who is included in the network against who is not. It is evident that in the so-called North there is a much larger proportion of population and activities within the network, but also in the South there are nuclei that are included in the network that have become disassociated from their own societies.

This exclusive globalisation has been brought under suspicion by public opinion in the last few years. This type of globalisation means that large sectors of many cultures are marginalized from the process while others reap extraordinary benefits from it. It is impossible to affirm that globalisation is either wholly negative or wholly positive. The question depends on when, where, how and for whom it is evaluated, as it is possible for globalisation to be positive in economic terms but negative in environmental issues, for instance. However, what has evolved is that the states themselves, in their desire to manage globalisation and become a part of it, are those which have really encouraged it; the multinational companies are not the only forces of globalisation.

From an empirical perspective, the globalising states have been the nation-states that have liberalised and deregulated, while at the same time they were in possession of the technological infrastructure to develop this globalisation. In other words, the globalisation of the capital or the international trade not only depends on the fact that there is the technology to globalise or the business strategy to do so: it also depends on the states truly liberalising, deregulating, privatising and removing borders. And this is what they have done. To a certain extent, the states have been the main agents of liberalisation and globalisation, and from this position, they have distanced themselves in certain ways from what was once their historical basis of representation and political legitimisation.

An example of this is the European Union. Europe has had to organise itself as the European Union in order to gain credence in a world order in which not even the USA possesses or possessed the capacity for economic control.The US exercises more control than other nations, but does not enjoy the capacity of total control because control of the global financial markets and the investments and strategies at the centre of multinational companies does not belong to any one entity. The European Union has established itself as a state that I would call a network-state, as a new form of state in which the relations with the institutional political management depends on national governments of the nationstate which work more or less together, and which are constantly negotiating and sharing power in order to be able to maintain a certain level of autonomy with respect to global networks of capital, technology, international trade, the media and so forth.

As a further development, they have created a superstructure of international relations, both of European institutions and other types: NATO, the World Health Organisation, and the Environment Treaty, as a series of international institutions.At the same time, in order to put the brakes on the crisis of legitimacy that the nation-states have experienced, we can also observe, particularly in the European Union but throughout the whole world, an effort of decentralisation toward states that are sub-national in the sense of bring nationstates, toward historical nationalities, toward regions, localities and even non-governmental organisations.

Thus, the real structure of the state that we currently experience in Europe—and which we could also analyse in other parts of the world where the phenomenon is similar—is not the nation-state as the centre of everything, but the nation-state as the node of a network which is supranational, nation-infrastate and, at the same time, nation-co-state. It is within this network where political decisions are made, and where negotiations and management take place. From this perspective, the nation-states have not disappeared within the globalisation, though in order to survive they have had to surrender power, and more significantly, they have had to distance themselves a little more from the system of political representation of which they form a part.

Their citizens are therefore obliged to accept that what happens in a village or a region is not the same as what happens in the state as a whole, but they must also accept that there is a global logic of management in the nation-state. Thus, the mechanism of representation is much more distant.We should remember the slogan of the anti-globalisation movement, regardless of the opinion that we each have of this movement, which is wrongly referred to as anti-globalisation, given that that is not how the movement defines itself.The slogan that headed the first big demonstration in Seattle against the World Trade Organisation was very precise: “No globalisation without representation”. In fact, it echoed the slogan with which the American Revolution was initiated: “No taxation without representation”. If we analyse this protest in depth, from a technical perspective, it is clearly incorrect, because the World Trade Organisation is not made up of the multinationals but of the states; it is the states and the governments that are represented.

Some of them were not democratically elected, but after all, those which were elected democratically are just that. This type of reaction means that somewhere between what I have in my own home and the level of representation finally decided by the world political economy, the mechanism of real representation is lost.Thus, on the one hand, radical trends appear that refute the existence of any such mechanism, and on the other, the necessity arises for serious trends that will assert the existence of other types of representation mechanisms. Consequently, the principle of reconstruction of a political model of management is achieved by losing a certain capacity of legitimisation and political representation.

However, at the same time that this globalisation, this reaction of the state and this consequent distance between the state and its representatives are in progress, a growing concentration of the collective behaviour of people in reference to their identities is also underway. The reason can be found in the fact that, insofar as these people feel like orphans of the state as the instrument of representation and meaning, and they cannot depend on the institutions of the state as an element of construction in their lives, then they tend to reconstruct a meaning based on historical character. And it is here where we can see the identity emerge. Identity is a reconstruction of the meaning of life of the people at a time in which what they possessed as a form of aggregation and organisation—in the Modern Era this has been fundamentally the state—is lost. The market is not enough to provide this meaning.

To a certain extent the state becomes an agent of globalisation and not of a specific group, and the reaction is the alternative construction of meaning based on identity. The word identity can have many meanings. Currently, in social sciences identity is understood as that process of construction of meaning based on a cultural attribute that allows people to find meaning in what they do in life. Through a process of individuation they sense what they are, and they have meaning because they refer themselves as something more than themselves: they associate themselves with a cultural construction, although this cultural construction may be individual. Individualism is a form of identity, such as can be illustrated by the following phrase: “I am the beginning and the end of all things”, or “I and my family are the beginning and the end of all things.” This is one form of identity, however in general the identities with which we associate ourselves are constructed with the materials of history. Here, the metaphysical discussion between sociologists, social scientists and anthropologists attempts to clarify whether these identities are constructed or not. In my opinion, that they are constructed is evident; I know of no cultural form that has not been constructed.

But constructed with what? Not with what we arbitrarily decide: this morning I wake up and I decide to become a Hutu, for instance. I could make this decision, although the decision to become a Hutu would be very complicated. Here emerges the play of postmodern theories in which anything is possible, and all identities are invented. In other words, being a Muslim or a Catalan, being a woman or coming from Barcelona, form part of the same homogenisation in which everything is constructed. Everything is constructed but with the materials of personal experience, and this personal experience has a density, and a historical, cultural, linguistic and territorial depth. But how is an identity constructed? Who constructs it? For what purpose is it constructed?

Who can identify with it? It is in this material process of construction of identity where problems start and where it is necessary to finely tune any analysis. In my theory, I have tried to distinguish three types of identities that I have empirically observed as collective identities. What I define as legitimising identity is that which is constructed by the institutions, and particularly by the state. By way of illustration, and without the intention of being controversial, the French national identity, which is one of the strongest in Europe, is constructed by the French state. It is the French state that constructs the French nation, and not the other way around. At the time of the French Revolution, less than 13% of the current French territories spoke the language of the Ile-de-France.

I would say that it is the only European national identity that has been efficiently constructed by the state. It was mainly constructed firstly through repression, as were all the state-constructed entities, but repression also existed in many other places with far less effective results.There was a decisive element in the form of the School of the Third Republic, or the School of Gilles Ferrie, which really constructed the petit citoyen français (average Frenchman) as a cultural model. In contrast with the history of France, the other great revolutionary nation, the United States, constructed a strong national identity in which there were no traditional identitary principles, and it did so from a base of the state and the Constitution and through the key elements of multiculturality and multiethnics.

The second type of identity is what I call resistance identity. It is the identity with which, when human groups feel either culturally rejected or socially or politically marginalized, they react by constructing forms of selfidentification from the materials of their history, which allow them to resist what would be their assimilation into a system in which their position would be structurally subordinated. It is currently possible to talk of national identity in order to express the extraordinary emergence of indigenous movements throughout the whole of Latin America.This is an identity which has been dormant, and which has never been expressed in all its current strength. The cause of such newly emerged strength is that the search for identity is fused with the resistance to the process of marginalization to which a certain type of globalisation exposes them. Not all globalisation generates resistance, but that particular form of globalisation can make certain social groups resist, and they resist with what resources they have when they cannot do so as citizens, because as citizens they are minorities whose rights remain unrepresented.

The third type of identity that I have observed is what I call project identity. Project identity is based on selfidentification, always according to cultural, historical and territorial materials. Although the identification is always related to these materials, there is a project of construction of a collective and at that moment it can be a project of a national and generic nature; for instance, the feminist or the ecologist movement as a project of construction of a citizenship of the rights of nature. These three types of identities are fundamentally different and it would be a mistake to believe that it is easy to pass from one to another. For instance, the possibility of changing from a resistance identity to an identity project is not clear.

And if this change does not take place, then the identities close in on themselves. The legitimising identities become ideological manipulations. If the project of construction of the nation based on the state is simply the interest of the state, this means that those who do not agree with the processes established in the state are marginalized. If the identities of resistance do not open up, and do not establish bridges of dialogue and communicate, it is possible that they become fundamentalisms. If the project identities are not embodied in constructed historical materials, they become merely subjective projects that are difficult to assimilate by the whole of society. So how can what we have seen in the last few years be empirically posited now? Instead of referring to all the possible cases, I will focus on two types of identity: religious identity and national identity.

The religious identity in Western Europe, and I would say in Europe in general, has at present very little importance. Our studies in Catalonia show that less than 5% of the Catalan population regularly practise their religion. This does not mean that religion is not important in the general cultural collective, simply that it is not the principle of identity on which the meaning of life is based for the majority. However, if many European intellectuals insist on this and underestimate religious identity, it is simply the result of ignorance due to the fact that in other parts of the world, beginning with the USA, it has an extraordinary importance. And obviously in the Mediterranean Islamic world it is the principal basis of identity.

Thus, the religious is an identity that differs basically from that of the state legitimacy. The principle of state legitimacy as state citizen is quite different from the principle of the believer as a member of a community. Speaking specifically of the Islamic world, the serious construction project of the Arab state goes against the Islamic principle of the umma. The umma is a community of believers which by definition is not expressed in the state. The state is only part of the principle of legitimacy insofar as it becomes Islamic, and represents the interests of God through the state. Further on, there are more or less fundamentalist derivations.

But nationalism is the enemy of the umma and this is why when Saddam Hussein achieved power backed by the support of the USA, and to a certain extent by that of France, he was backed to defend Iraq, a fundamental strategic point, from Islamism; and as soon as Saddam Hussein was eliminated, along with the extreme Arab nationalism that he represented, Islamism emerged, which is the substrate of what exists and existed in the Iraqi society. Above all Shiism, but also Sunnis, agree on these types of principles: in fact, Saddam Hussein was the mortal enemy not only of Shiites but also of the whole of Islamism.

Thus, insofar as nation-states have been incapable of managing globalisation, and there has been a concurrent failure of Arab nationalism with respect to Israel and globalisation in general, and as Arab nationalism or nationalism in other parts of the world collapses, the reconstruction of meaning appears outside the state, which is the religious reconstruction; with the possibility that, if this construction is not a project construction but a community construction closed as resistance, then as we can observe, it becomes fundamentalism. National construction, as we have observed in the Modern Age, was formed from the basis of the construction of the nation-state, and generally on the basis of the state rather than on the basis of nation.

It was the state that created the nation rather than vice versa in most cases. At present we may observe the separation between state and nation. What we are observing when we speak of values is that national and state values are different. Those of the state are instrumental, and beyond the framework of the nation-state, they are values for the management of globalisation and the global management networks; while on the other hand, they assert themselves as identitary values. The nations excluded from the process of generating their own state, such as Catalonia, Scotland and Quebec, and also those which generated a strong nation, such as France, are currently lost in the globalisation in a situation that appears both as a loss of autonomy in terms of power of the state and as an invasion of foreigners into a culture which resists assimilation.

Last year in Europe we saw the development of the policy of fear, in terms of the fear of globalisation and the fear of the foreigner as a form of expression of a nation which saw itself betrayed by the state, and this has led to the reappearance of a wide range of extremist ideologies that have inspired many votes, such as in the case of the extreme right politics in France and Holland. In this way, the nationalist reaction as separate from the state has several political versions. Thus, the idea of the reconstruction of the state based on the nation proposes the identity of the nation. Without entering into controversial arguments and by way of a simple analysis let us consider the case of Spain: President Aznar presents the idea of a project to promote Spain as an important country in the world, but at the same time explicitly rejects the idea of a multicultural society.

When invoking the principle of a unicultural Spanish nation, he manifestly attempts to construct a nation on the basis of a cultural and national unity that does not currently exist in Spain, and that is not even recognised in the Spanish Constitution. In this case, the project of reconstruction is put forward in the name of the nation, when in reality it is in the name of the state. It is a nationalist project based on a state rather than a nationalist project based on a nation. It is important to bear this in mind not only because of the specific explanations in Spain, but also as a more general principle for the world. The idea is that when the state is deprived of an identitary strength for the sustaining of its difficult manoeuvres within the world of globalisation, this state tries to relegitimise itself by calling once again on its people, that is, its nation; but this nation in many cases has already separated itself from the state and believes that it is not being represented.

Latin America is a dramatic case in point, but there are others: the nations, the states that are constructed on pluri-national realities, such as the Spanish state. To speak of a Spanish nation in unitary terms is really to question the pluri-nationality on which the construction of a state of consensus was based. These types of derivations are statistic, identitary and globalising.That is, three sides of one triangle that do not meet. The elements of the crisis of management that our world is currently experiencing are the following: the instrumental processes of power and global wealth, the institutions, a nation-state which no longer represents the nation, and the identities constructed with autonomous principles. And when the states, above all those that are more powerful, are in crisis, they are incapable of controlling overwhelming processes, such as the USA after the events of 11th September.

Then they resort to what had always been the state’s reason for being: the legitimate capacity for the monopoly of violence in Weber’s analysis. They resort to their capacity for coercion, and to violence, and this becomes the fundamental principle in a world in which, during the last ten years, there have been all kinds of experiments of combinations between states and of the creation of forms of co-management and world co-ruling, which also contained plural identities, and complicated bridges of relations between global public recourses and the institutions of the nation-state.

All this complexity disappears in times of panic and times of defence, and the principle of politico-military capacity for imposing the will of a state is resumed. It is the policy of fear on a global scale, not simply on a national scale. From here emerges something similar to what we are experiencing: structurally, the evolution of the world is moving, toward complexity, plurality and interdependency, but if there are powerful agents in the game who decide that although the world is following its own direction, they wish to impose their own impulses, this can cause profound change in the long term. We should remember the relations between structure and agency.There is the structure that creates the framework in which problems can occur, but the agency is what finally prevails.

The agent does not understand the structure. Bush decides that although globalisation and cultural plurality exists, he will make his own decisions totally from the margin of the structure.What Bush and other such countries achieve is the generation of a different trajectory. There may be the internet, globalisation, interdependency, and also cultural plurality, but if there are also censorship, military power and technology at the service of the military forces, this unilateral dynamic generates a very different world, in which the lack of correspondence between the economic, cultural and institutional structures and the political instruments provokes chaos. The Azores Meeting brought together the four main Western Christian empires, or their remains, generating the message that the world was a very dangerous, very complicated place, which had to be simplified by reducing it to a model of civilisation that can easily be demonstrated as the best, the most desirable, and most definitely, ours; and that, as we have the capacity to impose such a model, we will do so, under the justifications that, one: the world will be more controllable because we do control it, and two: it will be a better world for all because our civilisation is superior. These justifications are reasoned by the imperial logic. The imperial logic is not to steal gold in the past or oil now.

This is, let us say, a plus: the empire must somehow be funded but the imperial logic is to think that its own work toward world civilisation is correct and that violence is justified to save people from their own misery. The big phrase currently coined by American political science is the ‘failed state’. Failed states are those in which the governments are incapable of maintaining relations with their citizens, or managing the planet and its resources. At a small meeting of experts, a prestigious American political scientist proposed that in the face of the existence of so many failed states, which apart from sheltering terrorists also had the capacity to control the most important natural resources of the planet, it would be necessary to create a trust controlled by Western countries in order to manage the world natural resources for the benefit of its inhabitants and the planet in general, because they would do it better. In other words, the civilising will is, in fact, a will of legitimising identity based on the power of the state.

This legitimising identity is now confronted with resistance identities that are appearing throughout the world like trenches, with identities of their own that although they are not necessarily the most extraordinary, are the most praiseworthy. Of the two, the capacity of the resistance identity — and in particular national identity — to become a project identity that proposes an ideal with which all the members of a society can identify, not only in the past but in the future, is the only thing that can save the world from an existence amidst apparatuses of power and fundamentalist communes.