Summary of Bright and Geyer

Bright and Geyer argue that it is misleading to describe the world as undergoing a process of “globalization” (= the world becoming more and more interconnected over time). Rather, they suggest that the world has been in a condition of global enmeshment or “globality” since the 2nd half of the 19th century. A threshold was crossed, and there’s no going back to a world of relatively autonomous regional actors. From mid-19th century forward, the actions of economic/political/cultural actors have had to engage in every way with an entangled world. According to the authors, what has changed over the last 150 years is not the fact of globality or global enmeshment, but rather the strategies adopted to cope with the conditions of globality.

They argue that the strategies have shifted over time. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, European powers, taking advantage of a series of crises in the non-Western world, attempted to impose a top-down, hegemonic form of global control – empire. However, according to Bright and Geyer, there were crowded “arenas” of action that led to the undermining of empire-building. Empires and their constituent parts proved to be highly unstable.

The territorially-bounded nation (and potential nation) was one of these arenas. Here, nation-building elites pushed back against empire. Another arena was industrialized territories, which were sometimes coterminous with national boundaries and sometimes not. A third was the cultural lifeworlds that people created in response to / in resistance to conditions of globality and attempts to impose imperial control. The final arena was the global division between city and countryside.

Bright and Geyer suggest that today the condition we find ourselves in is no longer a world of empires or nations, with some nations having become industrially advanced and others trying to catch up (they definitely don’t like the metaphor of ‘catching up’; they suggest an alternative “explosive chain reaction, a moment when continuities of long duration kick over into a rupture of cascading effects” (p.287)). Rather, we are seeing a great fragmentation, a redivision of impoverishment “that relocates the centers of poverty from the countryside to the slums of megacities” (p.295). There is de-industrialization (think Cleveland) of the former industrialized world and diffusion of multi-national investment globally.

Some implications of Bright and Geyer’s argument: the world is not catching up to a Western model (there is no process of westernization); rather, all in the world are attempting to survive in the face of the condition of global entanglement. Survival tactics can include resistance, appropriation, reassertion of difference, etc. But all responses, “even defensive ones – preclusive nationalism, protected industry, the reproduction of cultural difference” are “inherently transnational expressions” (p.296). Globalization is not a synonym of Westernization.