Educaiton. London: Routledge.
A Situated Perspective on Cultural Globalisation
Allan Luke & Carmen Luke
University of Queensland
In 1993, the Office of Royal Literature in Thailand commissioned a team of business
leaders, journalists and academics to debate and officially define ‘globalisation’
(Reynolds 1998, 126). After a vigorous two-year exchange between advocates and
opponents of globalisation, between economic and cultural positions, the Office of
Royal Literature decreed the new word and definition into the Thai Royal Dictionary.
Robertson and Khondker (1998, 35) describe the outcome:
The official translation of this word [globalisation] is logapiwatanam which
combines the Thai ‘world’ with the word apiwatana, meaning ‘to spread, to
reach, to win over’. This official meaning, which is not readily accepted by
those committed to a unidimensional economic meaning,…means ‘the
expansion of the world, spread around the world, and change and effect all
over the world’.
This chapter is a situated account of cultural globalisation. We provide an
alternative reading of dominant discourses on globalisation which, we will argue, are
based on a Euro-American authored “capitolocentrism” (Gibson-Graham 1997). That
perspective accounts for the effects of globalisation in determinist, causal, and uni-
directional terms: north south, west east. Our discussion here of the impact of
globalisation on social, cultural, and educational change in south-east Asia, and
Thailand in particular, makes a simple point. We maintain that only through situated,
local and self-critical analyses can we begin to see the two-way, mutually
constitutive dynamics of local-global flows of knowledge, power and capital, of
systematic as well as unsystematic and uneven ‘effects’, and of local histories that
always embed ‘the new’ in existing and generative material-economic and cultural
conditions. Our intent is not to refute accounts of the hegemonic effects of fast
capitalist consumption and production, but to offer a counterpoint by arguing that
homogenising effects are always rearticulated in social fields where they are subject
to local and regional force and power.
We begin with a narrative of our exchanges with Thai educators, explicated
with links along the way to contemporary and historical “situational logics” (Prattis,
1987, 11). These situational logics serve as maps which, we hope, will represent the
multiple embeddings of culture, history, economic and social change that frame and
punctuate the uses and effects of globalisation. These same logics shaped our
encounters ‘from afar’ with the Thai educators and social scientists who had invited
us to collaboratively address the educational issues of ‘New Times’.
Next, we situate our local narratives within the context of regional and Thai
social and economic, cultural and educational change. Here we provide a localised
critique in order to reappraise global claims and assumptions about the efficacy of
McCulture: the allegedly tenacious grip of western hegemony over hapless ‘victim’
nations and cultures. The final section of the paper concludes with an argument for
the urgency of tempering the pull of grand-narrativising, of totalising the other yet
once again from the perspectivism of western ‘us’ and ‘them’ epistemology that, in
effect, globalises the discourses of globalisation, and globalises claims about effects
and processes of globalisation. We locate this counter-argument in a discussion of
competing discourses about the role of education in ‘development’.
Our perspective, analysis, and ‘take’ on globalisation is itself local and
localised. As Australians, we are part of the region, although geographically on its
south-eastern periphery. Only ocean separates this continent from the Antarctic,
East Timor and Papua New Guinea are our nearest northern neighbours, and Fiji,
our eastern neighbour. Australia and New Zealand consider themselves as part of
the intellectual and geopolitical west, yet our relatively isolated location on the globe
in the ‘far south’ and ‘far east’ situates us very much on the geo-political and cultural
Australia historically was invented as a white diaspora at the edges of Empire,
often treated by Empire in little more benign terms than our Asian counterparts.
Over the past decade, Australia has deliberately attempted to redefine and realign
itself as part of Asia, unsuccessfully seeking membership of the ASEAN
economic/political bloc. Australia is not ethnically or culturally Asian, but we are a
nation-state of some 17 million with an Anglo-Celtic majority in the midst of a
complex Asian diaspora (Luke & Luke, in press). For our northern/western readers,
then, our localised account can be read as a commentary of the margins from a
margin, albeit a materially privileged one. In a region where Singapore and Hong
Kong are financial and information centres, Sydney, Melbourne and certainly Perth
and Brisbane must work very hard to represent themselves as world cities worthy of
participation in global capital and information flows.
Yet questions of cultural globalisation are at least in part questions of optics
and standpoints. All of these peripheries – Asian, Australasian and others – consider
their histories and futures very much at the centre. Neither existentially,
economically nor politically are these histories and futures taken by locals, including
cosmopolitan locals, as mere footnotes in an inexorable or unproblematic process of
globalisation and homogenisation driven by New York or London, Tokyo or Beijing.
In this regard, while we and our Thai colleagues could be accused of a local myopia
– it is equally problematic to generate a ‘far-sighted’ perspective solely on the basis
of one’s myopia, as is often done through what we will here term the inside-out
theorising of the West.
We turn now to a narrative description of the micro-politics of the little habitat
– the overlapping complexities and concurrent relations of local site, community,
nation, and region. If all the recent lessons about the fundamental importance of
situated analyses of the micro-capillaries of power, of strands of histories within
histories, of archeologies of discursive sites, have failed – then we risk reverting to a
new kind of Western intellectual colonisation: a pathological ethnocentrism of inside-
out theorising, doomed to grand-narrativising and, this time, on an even grander
scale. Globalisation: the mother of all metanarratives. Our aim in this Chapter, then,
is to provide one case as a cautionary note against polemics of globalisation as “a
brakeless train wreaking havoc” (Harvey 1989, 8).
Postcolonial Agents and Market Relations
For the past three years we have been working closely with teacher educators and
social scientists in two areas of Thailand: in the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Region
outside of Bangkok, and in the Northern provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
The latter province straddles the Mekong River adjacent to China, Myanmar and
Laos in what is popularised in media folklore as the “Golden Triangle”, home of the
opium trade. But for regional economic planners and the local population alike, it is
seen as a geographical nexus that has long connected these countries through
cultural and spiritual events and histories. The Triangle – in reality a quadrangle of
four countries - has been the ground of indigenous empires and border conflicts that
stretch back over four centuries. Since the 1980s, it has been projected in regional
development plans as an economic corridor that – with the overthrow of the military
government in Myanmar, openings of borders with China, and better bridge systems
to Laos - would join Thailand’s extensive exporting, transportation and
telecommunications infrastructure with new labor and consumer markets. It is also
viewed as a prime corridor into southern China for European and North American
tourists, who can already take a short flight to the ancient Chinese walled city of
Kunming which, during the last millennial era of high colonialism, was a favoured
gateway for French missionaries, traders and soldiers.
Our work has been to assist in research projects and doctoral training at
several of the Rajabhat Institutes, regional colleges that offer vocational,
undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and whose Royal mandate is community
development. We were invited to participate after institute delegations surveyed and
visited numerous Australian, British, US and Canadian institutions looking for what
they considered appropriate collaborators -- quite literally shopping on a globalised
educational marketplace. In Australia, successive economic rationalist governments
have pushed for the replacement of state funding of universities with “revenue-
substitution” strategies based on increasing domestic fees and a burgeoning
educational export industry focused principally on Asia. The educational export
industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the Australian economy.
When we began our work in 1997 we had an interesting dialogue with one of
our Australian colleagues who was also about to embark on teaching in Southeast
Asia. He warned about the need to avoid “exploiting the Thais”, urging us to apply
critical pedagogical principles to the development of our curriculum in ways that
might lead towards more “emancipatory” and “empowering” outcomes. There was
something both idealistic and naïve about his view. It presupposed a particular
historical set of subject/object relations at work between us and the Thai, with our
potential power as cultural imperialists taken for granted. It was not so much that he
was ‘wrong’ about the situation per se, for the dangers he warned of certainly
factored into our negotiations and subsequent exchanges. But his understanding
was a product of a particular historical era, material and political contexts that
Freire, Fanon and others had so accurately described two and three decades earlier.
Prevailing neomarxian and postcolonialist theorisations of centre/margin
relationships were historically produced to explain the postwar decolonisation and
sites of genocide and economic exploitation (Moore-Gilbert 1997). Such analyses
remain relevant in many contexts, particularly those still making the transitions from
agrarian to industrial economies, and, obviously, those still engaged in throwing off
neo-colonial or repressive governments. Yet for us the sobering prospect was that
the relationships and spaces we were venturing into were the products of a very
different context and epoch. Many of the axioms derived from what we would term
point of decolonisation analyses did not seem to hold in these new, unprecedented
conditions and shifting “flows of power” and “power of flows” (Castells 1989, 171).
Consider, for example, the ideological positions favoured by historical figures like
Mahatir and Suharto in the face of the recent crisis. They too tended to recite
coloniser/colonised, centre/margin dualisms that simplified responsibility for the
economic situation, and ignored or concealed intra-national, transnational and
regional dynamics of class, culture, generation, and corporate alliances.
For us the issue was not principally whether and how we were positioned as
the ‘exploiters’ or ‘colonisers’ from the West. Indeed, the Thai delegation had
“contracted” us to deliver a specific curriculum product on their terms. Thais, Malays,
Indonesians, Chinese and others shopped for educational partners on a marketplace
where supply outstripped demand and, no doubt, they could select partners from a
diversity of institutional types, histories and, indeed, ideologies. This was the new
globalised marketplace of culture, knowledge and power, a field of new exchange
relations, new commodities and different flows of economic and cultural capital.
There was no central determination of its key players, nodal points, or consequences
‘in the first instance’.
We were on new ground. New questions emerged about which intra-national
and regional social fields we would be playing in, which institutions, which agencies,
which class and cultural interests within the ‘contracting’ nation-state would be using
us, to what particular ideological agendas and ends, in what configurations of power,
around which nodal points, and in whose interests. In this way, as the educrats,
bureaucrats and aidcrats in newly and rapidly industrialising countries have long
known, the exchange of flows in postmodern conditions (as against early
postcolonial conditions) has long been a case of ‘the tail wagging the dog’.
Thai Encounters: A Narrative
During one of our first meals with the local educators in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai,
our partners in a joint training program, we had an animated discussion about what
‘New Times’ meant to Northern Thailand. They spoke at length over the
unprecedented educational problems facing Thailand: government schools had a
poor track record in promoting the success of the indigenous “Hill Tribes” – the
Karen, Hmong, Ha, and other indigenous peoples whose tribal homelands straddled
the borders between these nation states. These children tended to fail in schools
and have difficulty with Thai literacy, despite high profile pedagogy and cultural
maintenance projects sponsored by the Thai Royal Family.
Additionally, teachers had to deal with migrant children from Myanmar and
Laos who “didn’t speak proper Thai”, and whose parents and families live in extreme
poverty. Some are refugees housed in camps, others guestworkers in bottom-end
labor markets such as rice production, construction and fishing. Not coincidentally,
migrants, refugees and guestworkers were the first to be blamed by the national
press for taking “Thai jobs” at the onset of the 1997 economic crisis and subsequent
IMF intervention. At the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, educators said
they felt unprepared for the first generation of Thai youth – the children of the
emergent middle class – who were impatient with traditional Thai and Buddhist
values, and seemed to be more preoccupied with MTV, video games, Michael
Jordan, the Spice Girls and hanging out in shopping malls. New times, we were told,
had generated new educational problems and new identities.
In response, Thai federal government policy pushed for the hallmarks of
educational modernity: extended compulsory education, standardised and
commodified curriculum, increased retention rates, privatisation of the tertiary
sector, all based on a strong human capital rationale. The anachronisms, riddles and
shortcomings of hierarchical and patriarchal educational administration, traditional
rote curriculum, “chalk and talk” pedagogy, and formal examinations seemed more
glaring than ever. Nor did many of the imported Western technocratic solutions on
offer since the Vietnam war1 – from psychologically-based approaches to instruction,
counseling and testing, commodified curriculum packages, to educational
managerialism - appear to be solving these dilemmas.
But new conditions also had generated new alliances and partnerships in
pursuit of solving complex problems – including ours - that didn’t necessarily entail
the superimposition of technocratic, progressivist or neoliberal educational solutions
on local and indigenous contexts. In fact, the break in the financing of many
government-funded projects caused by the economic crisis generated a host of
ambivalent effects, enabling a space for the critique of scenarios for the importation,
expansion and exploitation of capital. It triggered a search for more cost-effective,
local solutions to social and economic problems. 2 The army was enlisted in the
cultivation of foodstuffs and the development of market gardens on military bases.
Newspapers ran feature articles on self-sustaining Buddhist temple communities and
the King appeared on national television with a traditional, native drum to extol the
virtues of traditional culture as a productive resource in the face of the crisis. One of
1 It is notable that during and following the Vietnam War, Thailand, as a US client state benefited
through educational scholarships and aid programs. Many of Thailand’s current university
Administrators and educational researchers were trained in American universities in the 1970s and
early 1980s on US and Thai government scholarships. The shift towards working with Australian,
Canadian and UK institutions has only occurred with the marketisation of education in the 1980s and
1990s and the availability, before the 1997 crash, of Thai private and government funds to support
study abroad. In 1998, the government placed a moratorium on all overseas travel of government
employed educators and researchers.
2 When we first began working in Thailand and Malaysia in 1996, we would often query our hosts
about the apparently uncritical embrace of rapid development with disastrous ecological and social
effects. One response that we repeatedly heard was something like “capital only comes around once”.
Ironically, the economic crisis has generated some skepticism towards technocratic panaceas. The
Malaysian government, for example, has been forced to scale down and delay its ambitious multi-
million dollar plans for “smart schools” with computerised school administration and computer-
our colleagues explained to us how the crisis had encouraged some local
communities to reexamine the use of traditional medicines, community and spiritual
ethics of care in the treatment of HIV-positive patients. This in the context where
western medical treatment and prevention campaigns were proving extremely costly
Standing from afar, many of the axioms and claims of the literature on
globalisation clearly are at work in northern Thailand, with rapid growth, large scale
capital investment (and disinvestment) in tourist infrastructure, and cross-border
trade and population movement all leading to deleterious effects: urban crowding
and pollution in Chiang Mai, one of Thailand’s most beautiful and historic cities, and
industrialisation and tourism that has disrupted agricultural productivity and
community life styles. In some areas, it appears that community development is
being addressed through a grocery list of modernisation.
At the same time, globalisation has generated new kinds of identity, new
forms of intercultural communication and new forms of community. On the
Myanmar-Thai border, kids wear Chicago Bul s hats back to front, pirate copies of
Hong Kong videos and CDs are on offer, and Thai made Toyota pick-up trucks rule
the road. We take these also as signs of cultural globalisation. They include the
emergence of ‘world kids’ in the context of a new middle class based on western
models of consumption and desire (cf. Hewison 1996; Robison & Goodman 1996),
the same phenomena which place indigenous cultures and local cultures ‘at risk’.
The apparent similarities to the issues confronting Australian education are striking:
immigration and population movement; unruly forms of identity; youth with cultural
knowledge and technological multiliteracies that exceeds that of their teachers; and
consumer and media culture extended to more traditionally-oriented rural,
indigenous, and isolated communities.
Yet there is more than meets the western eye to globalisation in Asia. It is
analytically tempting and rhetorically powerful to describe the practices and
consequences of globalisation principally around the metaphor of the Golden Arches
(Watson, 1997). The signs and wrappers of American McCulture have spread to
cosmopolitan areas like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, which have become meccas for
European and North American ecotourists. Certainly, an emergent middle class youth
culture is reconstructing itself around images and text that are Thai appropriations of
western rock and popular culture. Yet such a position risks flattening out, one-
dimensionalising the complex processes of globalisation. These processes are not
simply acritical reproductions of western cultures. Rather, their formation flows out
of (1) a hybridisation and reappropriation of western cultures; and (2) long-standing
incorporations and appropriations of other Asian and regional cultures.
Consider, for example, Thai folk, pop and rock’n’roll. None of these are
carbon copies of the genres of the western music industry. Indeed there is evidence
that Thai popular music, like rock on the Indian subcontinent, has taken on a
substantial life of its own, not only shaping youth culture but providing a space for
innovative forms of social comment and cultural expression. The most popular
songs include ballads that emulate Thai traditional folk music. Arguing against both
dominant ideology and resistance theses common among western cultural studies of
music/pop culture, Siriyuvasak (1998, 206) claims that Thai pop music is “the
product of a complex articulation between Thai folk music and Western pop/rock”.
We visited one popular folk/rock club in Phitsanulok, a northern city off the
tourist trail – where a visibly ‘countercultural’ crowd, dressed like North American
hippies, bikers and alternatives, played music which blended Dylanesque folk with
traditional Thai folksongs, which themselves owe a great deal to Chinese music. The
instrumentation was a mix of Western folk instruments and traditional Thai
instruments. Yet no English-language songs were played. Here the blending of both
traditional Thai music and Western countercultures was used as a local generational
and cultural nationalist statement against new middle class values and, ironically,
crass Westernisation. Several kilometres down the road at a Thai-owned 5 star hotel
was a house band playing note-perfect copies of easy listening classics for European
expats and tourists. In this community, we saw both a hybrid mode of critique side-
by-side with a simple economy of musical importation and reproduction.
Hybridity, then, is not an invention of postmodernism, globalisation and
postcolonial theory. Rather it is a social and cultural formation borne out of complex
and intersecting histories that often predate direct contact with the industrial and
imperial West. Given their histories as blendings of indigenous/Chinese/Khmer
cultures, northern and central Thai cultures are already hybrids, products of
hundreds of years of complex cultural change and exchange. In fact, many Thai
intellectuals argue that it is this capacity to absorb, hybridise and appropriate that
has enabled Thailand to survive war without colonisation, and indeed, will enable it
to give a particular slant to globalisation (Reynolds 1998).
Population mobility is a further hallmark of globalisation theories. Travel,
displacement and “border crossing” are often cited as indicative aspects of
globalisation, with population movements across national borders in search of work
and improved quality of life. In south-east Asia such movement predates late 21st
century globalisation and late 19th century industrialisation. In the case of Thailand,
“central Siam in the nineteenth century was accustomed to a polyethnic population
long before the term ‘multiculturallism’ was invented…[and] the massive numbers of
Chinese who migrated to Siam, beginning in the eighteenth century via the junk
trade, …has been a key to Thailand’s post-World War II economic expansion”
(Reynolds 1998, 121). Chinese migration, in fact, is integral to the historical
development of almost all south-east Asian nations before, during, and after various
regimes of colonisation, including Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines,
and peninsular Malaysia, including what would in the 1960s become the independent
nation-state of Singapore. It is interesting to note that most Western explanations of
globalisation do not take into consideration the constitutive role of diasporic Chinese
in the economic and cultural formation of countries in Asia and the Pacific, a pattern
that has shaped Asian and Pacific nation states, economies and cultures for
centuries (e.g., Ong 1996).
Since the early 1980s, during the economic ‘take-off’ decades that saw the
emergence of the Asian ‘Tiger’ and ‘Cub’ economies, countries like Thailand,
Malaysia and Singapore built their economic success stories using migrant labour
from Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos and Bangladesh. Before the 1997 crash, migrant
guest workers filled the jobs that Thais were no longer willing to do: working on
construction sites and in factories, on fishing boats, loading and processing rice
(Phonpaichit & Baker, 1998). Likewise, the subsumption of indigenous and migrant
cultures by a dominant central Thai culture – based on Chinese/Buddhist principles –
has been an ongoing process that dates back to the 1920s and 30s. Then “racist”
and “assimilationist” policies (Reynolds 1998, 121) sought to ward off any racial
conflict that might emerge out of a potentially dangerous “threefold social division:
Thai peasants tilled the land; Thai bureaucrats ran the government; Chinese
merchants and labourers ran the urban economy” (Phongpaichit & Baker 1996, 15).
Another hallmark of globalisation is the assumption of western
“capitalocentrism”. Yet flows of power, capital and control do not necessarily begin
from or end in the west. In 1986, for example, Vietnam introduced economic
liberalisation (doi moi) and two years later, “the [Thai] prime minister proposed to
‘turn battlefields into marketplaces’, to stop treating Indochina as an enemy, and
start treating it as an economic opportunity. Thai businessmen immediately become
lyrical about suvannaphum (golden land), an old fantasy of Southeast Asia as a land
of prosperity focused on Siam” (Phongpaichit & Baker 1998, 49). And this is the
point: Asian capitalisms, economic power and regional control within their own local
social and economic fields are as pervasive and distinctive in their characteristic
configurations and aspirations, hybrid values, identities and practices as Western
capitalisms. The Thais “eagerly seized the opportunities presented by the age of
globalisation” (53), envisioning ‘Siam’ as the centre, as the focus of regional
prosperity based on a platform of global investments, human capital development
and export production.
In 1994 for instance, Thai overseas investment (principally into ASEAN
countries, Myanmar, China and Hong Kong) was two-thirds of inflow of foreign
investment. Thai hotel chains (e.g., Dusit Tani) bought into the U.S. market, Thai
telecommunications and media expansion moved into India and China, and in the
late 1980s diversification carved inroads into petrochemicals and oil refining, utilities,
manufacturing, retail and real estate – much of it in China and brokered through
Hong Kong. In their ‘post-boom’ retrospective, Phongpaichit and Baker note that
globalisation in Thailand was seen as a huge opportunity to get on the Asian Tiger
bandwagon. Given the lack of political and government restrictions on a growing
private sector, one which had already seen profound growth over the last four
decades, and “because this private sector was oriented outwards, [it] responded
nimbly to the new opportunities of the globalizing decade” (54):
This, then, is not a victim narrative, not a story of economic brute force
exerted by Wall Street, Ford or News Corporation. From this particular vantage
point, from this particular ‘optic’ – globalisation has been about regional, national
and inter-Asian agency and capital, class and cultural interests, as much as it could
be said to be about an extension of American or Western hegemony.
We have argued thus far that any assumed educational or cultural effects or
anomalies raised by globalisation are never straightforward, unmediated
consequences or mirror images of the ‘west’, or the ‘north’. No western product,
cultural symbolism, or social practice maps onto blank slate indigenous or national
cultures. Rather such forces dovetail in unpredictable and unsystematic ways into
local histories and relations. Globalisation, then, is neither a story of rapacious
western multinationals nor hapless eastern victims. Clearly, fast capitalism must
contend with local prehistories of other forms of economic activity, other kinds of
regional and local exploitation, other fields of class struggle and cultural domination.
Globalisation and Development: Inside-Out Theorising
It should hardly be surprising that much of the theorising about globalisation has
come from the west. In this regard, discussions of cultural globalisation have tended
to be forms of ‘inside-out’ theorising – that is, versions of the impact of the
extension and articulation of the economic formations and cultural practices of
dominant economies and cultures upon regional diasporic, emergent and, simply,
smaller and less influential economies and cultures. As a result, there is the risk that
such intellectual work on globalisation risks reproducing the very forms of academic
writing and discourse that the Western academy and, more specifically, the Anglo-
American disciplines are so proficient at: theorising the other, and therefore
extending a kind of ostensibly benign intellectual surveillance of the other, and of
theorising the effects of us on ‘them’.
Thus far, our focus has been on the cultural politics of the local. We have
attempted to show, by reference to one local site, the complexity of the multi-
directional traffic of “flows”, of homogenizing and heterogenising forces that are
mutually implicated in the dynamics of so-called globalisation. In this next section
we turn briefly to some of the theoretical issues implicated in what several scholars
have identified as the globalisation of discourses of globalisation (e.g., Lee & Wills
1997; Reynolds 1998; Robertson & Khondker 1998). The term globalisation has
rapidly gained theoretical prominence and intellectual ‘cache’ in the last decade,
often used to characterise or indeed supplant the equally slippery and catch-all term
postmodernism. Whereas postmodernism is now widely accepted to characterise
both a philosophical standpoint, as well as a shift in cultural and economic activity
and social relations, globalisation is less of a philosophical position. Yet it shares two
analytic features with postmodernism, namely a focus on the economic and cultural.
The most widely accepted definition of globalisation is that it is a feature of
late capitalism, or the condition of postmodernity, and more importantly, that it is
characterized by the emergence of a world-system driven in large part by a global
capitalist economy. This “capitilocentric” epistemology (Gibson-Graham 1997), this
focus on the economic as the principal force driving cultural, social, and educational
change on a global scale, fails to recognise that “economic activity always takes
place and is embedded in a culturally constructed context” (Crang 1997, 10). Such
economic determinism drags culture along as causal outcome, not as context or a
broader social field of cultural circuits of signification, identities and power relations.
Robertson (1992, 1995), Waters (1995) and Appadurai (1990) argue against
simplistic economic-driven models of globalisation. Waters, for instance, takes a
more culturalist position and defines globalisation more along the lines of a global
change in consciousness about changing global conditions – whether local
contributions and/or solutions to global (environmental) problems (Mazur 1998), the
global drift to the information and electronic age (Castells 1997), or trends toward
mega-alliances in corporate or nation-state management (EU, ASEAN, NAFTA, or
Daimler Chrysler). As Waters (1995) sees it, globalisation is
a social process in which the constraints of geography on social and cultural
arrangements recede and in which people become increasingly aware that
they are receding” (3)… A globalized culture is chaotic rather than orderly…it
is not centralized nor unified…the meanings of its components are relativized
into one another but it is not unified or centralized (125; emphasis added).
The core feature of an economic conceptualisation of globalisation is that the
forces and flows of capital sweeping the world and sucking up difference and
diversity originate principally in 'the west'. That is to say, there is a sense that
globalisation is isomorphic with a kind of high-tech, multi-mediated economic and
cultural imperialism which in an earlier age might have been termed 'westernisation'
-- read Americanisation -- or else a postmodern mutation of colonialism. In that
regard, globalisation, like its parent term postmodernism, has pejorative
connotations in the sense that the metaphors and images associated with global
markets and capital, and a global sweep eradicating or at least normalising diversity
and difference, paint a picture of a monstrous grotesque of Godzilla-like proportions
voraciously gobbling up labour, markets, cultures and traditions (T. Luke 1996),
bringing NICs and aspiring NICs to heel. In short, it is general y used to signify a
terrifying compression of the world – “a brakeless train wreaking havoc" (Harvey
1989, 8), a shrinking if not elimination of time and space, and the erosion of 'the
What has long counter-balanced this negative appropriation of globalisation is
its conceptual opposition to the beleaguered local whether at the level of nation-
states, communities, cultural 'traditions', or identities. This fundamental polarity
between local and global, macro and micro, is at the heart of much current debate
about globalisation in the social sciences (cf. Waters 1995; Robertson 1992;
Wallerstein 1980, 1991; Featherstone 1993; Featherstone et al. 1995). Here the
local is cast in a victim narrative, robbed of agency, stripped of authenticity, and
reduced to nothing more than a hapless consumption machine. Robertson and
Khondker (1998), quite rightly we believe, have picked up a connection between
proponents of the ‘globalisation-equals-western-hegemony’ equation and an
historically shaped and culturally located intellectual position: namely, the intellectual
defense team of the subaltern. They write:
This perspective centers on the proclamation that the West enjoys what is
often called a hegemonic position in the world as a whole. In a certain sense,
then, it is in the interests of those who maintain that they are representing
subaltern or oppressed groups to cast the West as very dominant and thus to
conceive of globalisation as a form of westernisation or as imperialism or
colonialism in a new guise. In this perspective many non-Western societies
are regarded as victims without agency and ‘globalisation’ becomes simply the
pejorative symbol of all things that are allegedly contaminating or disrupting
these societies (32).
We would add that the ‘subaltern’ is a contested intellectual construct and is not an
identity Asian cultures identify with, nor do they feel particularly “contaminated” or
disrupted. Here Featherstone’s (1995, 186) comment about what the characteristic
local response to “self-appointed guardians in the West” is relevant: “Don’t other
me”. As we noted earlier, many countries in the region currently undergoing
economic and political/social upheaval are using elements of globalisation (e.g., the
‘new’ finance sector accountability and corporate transparency, and the new global
visibility via media and telecommunications) to challenge “internal” problems.
Indonesia and Malaysia are currently witnessing pro-democracy reformasi social
movements that challenge longstanding internal political and economic structures
At the same, time, there is neither a homogeneous ‘west’ or ‘east’, or indeed
a singular academic, intellectual or corporate voice on cultural globalisation. In what
follows, we explore two aspects of current discourses on globalisation and
development: (1) the diversity of agents of globalisation; and (2) the diversity of
competing, often divergent, discourses of globalisation.
First, the issue about the very agents and objects of globalisation. The
irrefutable fact is that the United States has the world’s largest economy and, via
world language English, its intellectual industries, scientific and military systems,
mass media and publishing, exerts substantial control over dominant modes of
representation and communication. Yet there are other varied agents and objects of
globalisation acting upon and deployed from the smaller regional countries and
economies including obviously Japan, and, increasingly China – but as well Canada,
the UK, Australia, New Zealand and others. The extension of these forces into newly
industrialising economies does not necessarily have the self-same ideological or
cultural effects as that of American companies and NGOs. Simply, globalisation and
even, more specifically, westernisation do not necessarily mean Americanisation.
Second, there is an increasing complexity and diversity within governmental,
academic, and corporate discourses of globalization. That diversity is evident in
academic scholarship where disciplinary differences and differences of position
within disciplines abound. Corporate and governmental discourses on globalisation
usually promote an agenda to legitimate economic expansionism and development.
These include the official statements, annual reports and trend analyses by
multinationals, investment banks and trusts, and as well by transnational bodies
such as the World Bank, Asia Development Bank, the EEU and others. Yet these do
not necessarily read as discourses of exploitation and rapacious development, but
have deliberately incorporated discourses on the prevention and amelioration of
negative social, cultural and environmental effects of rapid and unplanned
development (e.g., Asia Development Bank 1996). In such accounts the problems
with economic globalisation are increasingly recognised and are said to lay with
unplanned, unmonitored and unregulated development. In the field of education,
likewise, the developments of NGOs and transnational forms of governance range
from basic education, rural access, informal education, women’s programs,
indigenous education and literacy, nutrition and special education, and school
restructuring and decentralisation planning (e.g., Sharma 1991).
Our point here is not to condemn or support the politics of aid, which have
been roundly critiqued in 1970s dependency theory (Ley 1996). We wish to point out
that NGOs, nation-state aid programs, and corporations alike are moving rapidly into
heteroglossic discourses. This is particularly the case in educational planning and
projects. Basic education projects in Laos, Vietnam and elsewhere or advanced
educational aid/trade relations with Thailand, Malaysia and China function, inter alia,
to develop Western-sympathetic human capital for economic ‘take off’ or
consolidation. In the wake of the crisis, educational aid projects in Indonesia shifted
from specialised kinds of curriculum or program enhancement (e.g., special
education, teacher education, higher education expertise) to basic nutritional
programs for school children. Malaysia scaled down ambitious information
technology planning for schools, and refocused on basic education issues. In these
and other instances, NGOs and government aid agencies have taken a dual role in
the processes of globalisation: both setting out enabling conditions for the
cooperative development and extension of capital into new labor and consumer
markets, and mopping up or ameliorating the negative effects of these same
Competing discourses deployed by governments and corporations in the
processes and practices of globalisation necessarily are increasingly complex and
heteroglossic, achieving both/and effects that are not clear-cut and often
ambiguous. The ambiguity of both/and effects is epitomised in market-driven
versions of ‘democracy’ that are redefining governmentality and economics in the
region, setting out new conditions for the expansion and exploitation of capital, but
also enabling ameliorative and progressive reforms. Without exception in the rapidly
developing countries of south east Asia such reforms target education as a
cornerstone of whatever vision of political, social or economic change governments
and corporate sectors decide upon. Educational policy, therefore, can be seen as a
flashpoint – a nodal point – of competing discourses, all focused on issues of
knowledge (curriculum), power (access/equity), and the human subject
We have attempted here to describe and analyse but a few facets of the
complexity of cultural globalisation, but in a way that also suggests an alternative,
situated perspective. That is, one that neither takes the privileged position of the
centre and presupposes the efficacy of that centre, nor romanticises heroic agency
or the material, cultural and social effects at the level of the local. The lenses
through which we have come to understand the push-pull dynamics of local-global
circuits, or what is now often referred to as the “glocal” (Robertson 1995) have been
shaped by our varied experiences along these concentric hinterlands of Australasia
and southeast Asia that are both/and: centre and margin. And it is our locale and
location which have moulded our analysis of and engagement with the “little
habitats” – the communities, the schools, the colleges – where aspects of
globalisation seep in at different rates, in different colours, contours and guises. We
will now trace out a last contour and ‘colour in’ what a pedagogy and curriculum
purpose-built for problematicising globalisation and New Times can look like. This, in
the context of one project in the Thai tertiary education sector, in one locale, in
A Postscript: On Educational Heterodoxies
We return to the dinner. After our Thai hosts had finished describing the problems
for which they were seeking solutions, they outlined some potential areas for
research and training. We were somewhat surprised when one department head
asked us: “What do you know about performance indicators, quality assurance,
school based management?” The policy response of the Thai government to New
Times had been to adapt aspects of a technocratic, neoliberal educational agenda.
This included an increased focus on assessment, comparative analysis of school,
college and university outcome measures, partial privitisation and increased
marketisation of post-secondary education, and the “devolution” of management to
local regions and schools. In 1997, the Thai Ministry of University Affairs established
a formal body to establish quality assurance mechanisms for evaluating and
comparatively ranking universities; similar moves were underway in Indonesia.
If the principal premise of our argument here holds -- that the effects of
globalisation unfold locally, regionally and nationally in uneven and not always
centrally predictable ways -- then any educational solutions by definition would have
to entail amalgams and blendings, requiring the on-the-ground generation of
heterodoxic strategies. Many Asian countries have turned to emulate economic
rationalist approaches to education, such as those prototyped in Britain, New
Zealand, and, more recently, Australia. Not surprisingly, these policies complement
IMF fiscal programs that call not only for increased financial transparency, but also
the reform of key state institutions to simulate corporate bureaucracies and to enter
in direct competition with each other and with emergent private sector providers of
services and goods. As it has in the west, this has set the conditions for tighter “one-
line” budgets, downsizing of staff, casualisation and work intensification, intra-
system competition between educational institutions, and increased reliance on non-
recurrent self-generated funding.3 All of the Rajabhat Institutes we have worked
with have been enabled by recent legislation to independently set fee levels and to
establish businesses to subsidise educational operations. These enterprises range
from stores, restaurants and hotels, to craft and manufacturing activities, cleaning
and catering services, and water-bottling facilities. Following the 1997 crisis, these
educational ‘reforms’ were accelerated, with the Universities and Rajabhat Institutes
absorbing funding cuts of between 25-50%. Hence, the tendency across Asia has
3 Similar moves were recently part of Jiang Zemin’s 1998 Chinese civil service reforms, that have led
to the 50% phased-in downsizing of administrative staff in Ministries of Education, the emergence of
a marketplace for private educational institutions, and the introduction of student fees.
been for central governments to attempt to emulate western systems’ responses to
decreased funding, new curriculum demands, and changing student populations.
In turning to us to contribute to educational exchange and development, our
Thai colleagues put us in a profoundly difficult situation. For we knew that (a) such
reforms had not generated the kinds of productive results promised in Australian
contexts and elsewhere and had exacerbated inequality (A. Luke, in press); and (b)
that the local and regional impacts of economic and cultural globalisation would be
best addressed by locally driven curriculum development, instructional innovation
and institutional reorganisation.
Yet there is already evidence that, like the other aspects of globalisation we
have discussed here, the Asian implementation of technocratic and neoliberal
educational policies has been idiosyncratic and heteroglossic. For instance, school-
based management and decentralisation is taken in the west as an archetypal
Thatcherite move towards, devolution, disinvestment and “steering from a distance”
(Lingard 1996) via indirect control mechanisms (e.g., quality assurance, performance
indicators, corporate systems of accountability). Yet even this most overtly
ideological of educational policy moves becomes a hybrid when transposed to other
national, regional and local contexts. In the Philippines, the agenda for educational
“devolution” is linked closely with overall policy moves towards reform of a
hierarchical and bureaucratised system, reform that includes moves to “indigenise”
the curriculum by bringing in more community, local and ethnic content, to find
alternatives to rigid standardised testing-based approaches to instruction and
assessment, and to introduce vernacular and minority languages as media of
instruction.4 In the case of Thailand, the attempt to move to school-based
management and devolution is concurrent with moves to extend universal
compulsory education beyond grade 6 into secondary schools, and to develop
programs for dealing with cultural diversity and special education needs. There are,
as we have argued here, complex local histories, political economies and material
conditions enabling and disabling these developments. Here particular policy
4 Personal communication, Fr. Andrew Gonzalez, Secretary, Department of Education, Culture and
Sports, Manila, 5 October 1998.
discourses and practices that are affiliated with, for example, neoliberal market
orientations in the West, reappear in differing configurations, with different
ideological collocations, in what appear to western eyes unexpected juxtapositions
with progressivist, classical liberal and even radical educational alternatives.
It would seem, then, that even direct attempts to import and reproduce the
most problematic of western educational strategies are processes fraught with local
inflections and adaptations. Policy makers are confronted with, for better and
worse, an implementation nightmare. Hence, in analyses and development of local
educational policy responses to cultural globalisation, we side with Robertson’s
(1995, 27) observation that:
It is not a question of either homogenisation but rather of the ways in which
both of these two tendencies have become features of life across much of the
late 20th century world. In this perspective the problem becomes that of
spelling out the ways in which homogenising and heterogenising tendencies
are mutually implicative.
There is little doubt that the patterns of rapid development are straining and
buckling the capacities of traditional (e.g., religious, community), postwar, and in
some instances postcolonial institutions of government and the civic state to cope.
In many countries in south east Asia, the schooling and higher education systems –
complex blends of inter-Asian, secular and non-secular, colonialist and postcolonialist
remnants, many redesigned under the auspices of postwar Western and East Bloc
intellectual and material aid during the Cold War – do not seem well equipped to
deal with New Times. At the same time, many of the educational, social or cultural
problems ostensibly produced by globalisation have little or nothing to do with an
irresistible, hegemonic American, ‘world’ culture at the service of multinationals. As
breathtaking as the scope and rapidity of these developments may appear, they
have ‘other’ complex histories.
What is to be done locally? We were in a difficult pedagogical situation, where
the acritical transfer of these normative models – whether managerialist models of
educational governance, technocratic models of pedagogy, or radical models of
critical literacy, feminist pedagogy and so forth – would have been at best extremely
problematic. If there is an activity that epitomizes the western logos and high
modernity – it is indeed critical literacy. And attempts to teaching Thai students to
‘be critical’, in the contexts of an emergent but at times tenuous move towards an
‘open’ public sphere for debate and dissention, and in the face of longstanding
Confucian and Buddhist traditions of reverence of pedagogic authority, generated as
many questions as they might have addressed.
Final y, after many more meals with our Thai col eagues, we had
collaboratively built a curriculum that was about the identification and solution of
local, regional and national educational problems through the development of hybrid
models of institutional development and community-based research. The
foundational content of that curriculum was the study of cultural and economic
globalisation and the principal theme of all of our studies was ‘New Times’. We have
begun each of our programs by reviewing and distributing key western work on
globalisation, much of it cited here. But instead of treating these texts as accurate
analytic and descriptive tools, we have tabled them with a simple pedagogical
framework, stating: “This is how the ‘west’ is theorising ‘you’” and then moving
towards the critique of those positions, and reworking those texts with students’
local analyses of the actual discourses, practices, and effects of globalisation on Thai
life. Moving from world to local representations, we have also discussed local media
reports on the economic crisis asking: “How is the ‘reality’ of the crisis constructed
by Thais people for other Thais? What isn’t said? Whose interests do these
competing accounts serve?"
This chapter is, at least in part, a snapshot of the kinds of problem-solving
pedagogical and conceptual work that we have been able to construct – literally
from ‘the ground up’ – with our colleagues and students over the past three years. It
is a work in progress, a kind of knowledge formation where meanings and analytic
vocabularies have been exchanged and mobilised locally by our Thai colleagues –
college and university teachers and researchers -- mobile phone toting, ‘wired’ global
citizens but local agents in and of their communities.
Appadurai, A. (1990). Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. In
M. Feathrestone (Ed), Global Culture (295-310). London: Sage.
Asia Development Bank. (1994) Handbook for incorporation of social dimensions in
projects. Manila: Asia Development Bank, Office of Environment and Social
Castells, M. (1989) The informational city. Oxford: Blackwell.
Castells, M. (1997) The rise of the network society. London: Blackwell.
Crang, P. (1997) Introduction: Cultural turns and the (re)constitution of economic
geography. In R. Lee, & J. Wills, (Eds) (1997) Geographies of economies (3-15).
Featherstone, M. (1995) Global and local cultures. In J. Bird, B. Curtis, T.
Putnam, R. Robertson & L. Tickner (Eds) Mapping the futures (169-87). London:
Featherstone, M., Lash, S. & Robertson, R. (Eds) (1995) Global modernities.
Gibson-Graham, J. (1997) Re-placing class in economic geographies: Possibilities
for a new class politics. In R. Lee & J. Wills, (Eds) (1997) Geographies of economies
(87-97). London: Arnold.
Harvey, D. (1989) The condition of postmodernity. Cambridge: Polity.
Hewison, K. (1996) Emerging social forces in Thailand. In R. Robison & D. Goodman
(Eds) The new rich in Asia (137-162). London: Routledge.
Lee, R. & Wills, J. (Eds) (1997) Geographies of economies. London: Arnold.
Lee, R. & Wills, J. (Eds) (1997) Geographies of economies. London: Arnold.
Leys, C. (1996) The rise and fall of development theory. Bloomington & Nairobi:
Indiana University Press & East African Educational Publishers.
Lingard, R. (1996) Educational policy making in a postmodern state. Australian
Educational Researcher 23(1), 65-91.
Luke, A. (in press) New narratives of human capital. In S. Ball (Ed) Major writings in
sociology of education. London: Routledge.
Luke, C. & Luke, A. (in press). Theorising interracial families and hybrid identity: An
Australian perspective. Educational Theory.
Luke, T. (1995) New world order or neo-world orders: Power, politics and ideology
informationalising glocalities. In M. Featherstone, S. Lash & R. Robertson (Eds)
(1995) Global modernities (91-107). London: Sage.
Mazur, A. (1998) Global environmental change in the news: 1987-90 vs 1992-96.
International Sociology, 13(4), 457-472.
Moore-Gilbert, B. (1997) Postcolonial theory. London: Verso.
Ong, A. (1996) Flexible citizenship among Chinese cosmopolitans. In P. Cheah & B.
Robbins (Eds) Cosmopolitics: Thinking and feeling beyond the nation (135-162).
Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Phongpaichit, P. & Baker, C. (1996) Thailand’s boom. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Prattis, J. (1987) Alternative views of economy in economic anthropology. In J.
Clammer (Ed) Beyond the new economic anthropology (8-44). London: Macmillan.
Reynolds, C. (1998) Globalization and cultural nationalism in modern Thailand. In J.
Kahn (Ed) Southeast Asian identities (115-145). Singapore: Institute of Southeast
Robertson, R. (1992) Globalization. London: Sage.
Robertson, R. (1995). Glocalization: Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity.
In M. Featherstone, S. Lash & R. Robertson (Eds) (1995) Global modernities (25-44)
Robertson, R. & Khondker, H. (1998) Discourses of globalisation: Preliminary
considerations. International Sociology, 13(1), 25-40.
Robison, D. & D. Goodman (Eds) The new rich in Asia. London: Routledge.
Sharma, M. (1991). Revitalizing teacher education: A multi-mode approach for
quality and equitable access for female teachers. Manila: Asia Development Bank,
Agriculture and Social Sectors Department.
Siriyuvasak, U. (1998) Thai pop music and cultural negotiation in everyday politics.
In Chen, K.H. (Ed) Trajectories: Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (206-27). London:
Wallerstein, I. (1980) The modern world-system II. New York: Academic
Wallerstein, I. (1991) Geopolitics and geoculture. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Waters, M. (1995) Globalization. New York: Routledge
Watson, J. (1997) Golden arches east. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
A Situated Perspective on Cultural Globalisation
Graduate School of Education
University of Queensland
Australia – 4066
N. Burbules & C. Torres, Eds. Globalisation and Educational Policy. New York:
Routledge, in press/ii/99.