Diversification and Uncertainty amid Strangers

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Modern Western societies are increasingly multicultural and diverse in

terms of ethnicity, sexual preferences, religious convictions, and cultural

tastes. The set of shared, collective meanings is diminishing, and there is a

growing diversity in social and cultural commitments. The individualized

individual is faced with both a growing fluidity and fragmentation of his

or her identity and an increased tendency to self-assertion and the suppression

of other identities. The growing uncertainty of modern citizens

makes the presence of the many “strangers” entering Western societies

as refugees or immigrants potentially threatening. Strangers mean a lack

of clarity: one does not know their habits and preferences, so suspicion

is the most likely response to them. As long as they can be confined to

their own quarters, it is easy to avoid them, but in this era of immigration,

strangers are far too numerous to hold them at a “safe” distance.

Strangers have become a stable and irreversible part of our social world

(Bauman 1997).

An almost prototypical form of solidarity is hospitality toward

strangers. In the ancient virtue of hospitality, caring for the needs of

the stranger was considered an inevitable obligation toward fellow humanbeings:

there was a “general human obligation to hospitality” (Finley

1988: 101). The Bible ordains hospitality to strangers as a holy plight. In

Homer’s Odyssey the rule of hospitality was to welcome a guest in your

home, offer him food and shelter, and only afterward ask questions about

his person and mission.Hospitality was regarded as equivalent to the fundamental

recognition and acceptance of “otherness,” of plurality in the

world. As such it can be seen as the basis of morality – “to be moral is to

be hospitable to the stranger” (Ogletree 1985 [1946]: 1).

Contemporary hospitality has retained its obligatory character inmany

countries all over the world, particularly Third World countries, Asia,

theMediterranean countries, and Eastern Europe.When we lose our way

in the Greek countryside and knock on the door of some small farmhouse,

in nine out of ten cases you will be received in the most cordial

way and be served the best food available in the house. The meaning

of hospitality in these parts of the world is still related to reciprocity

and mutual exchange: just as strangers may need you, you might need

them at some other time, and therefore you should offer them hospitality

(Pitt-Rivers 1968; Herzfeld 1987). However, in modern Western welfare

states the original meaning of hospitality has changed. With the rise

of welfare and individualism, strangers do not “need” one another any

longer as they used to in ancient times. Whereas in the 1960s ma ny

Western welfare states started using foreigners as workers because they

needed cheap labor, four decades later many of these workers have become

“superfluous”: we don’t need them anymore. Another category of

strangers, the refugees and the immigrants, need Western welfare states

to secure shelter and a decent way of living, while a growing number

of autochthonous people feel uneasy about the influx of strangers. The

former reciprocity in the interaction between strangers and indigenous

people has clearly been lost. Hospitality has become depersonalized and

commercialized and has lost its original moral meaning of being obliged

to take care of the needs of your fellow human beings, whoever they may

be. An opposite development is that as a consequence of the increased

global networks people have become less “strange” toward one another.

The reciprocity of the classical hospitality has been substituted by new

manifestations of worldwide connectedness.

Globalization and the New Society

Globalization, the growing interconnectedness of the world, includes

many domains: the electronic transformation in communication and

information (between universities, between nations and actors like political

and military representatives, between companies doing business,

etc.); the growth of aunify ing, global culture, the development of aworld

economy, mass transport systems, a world system of tourism, and global

social movements such as the human rights movement, the environmental

movement, or the women’s movement (B. Turner and Rojek 2001).

The new society has been variously labeled as a “network society”

(Castells 1996) or a“ risk society” (Beck 1986), to mention just afew influential

contemporary approaches. In Castells’s view the new information

technologies by means of their pervasiveness and flexibility have created a

universally integrated social world.He argues that transnational linkages

of information, finance, and communication make the traditional conception

of the nation-state obsolete. Instead, the network society emerges

as the primary unit of sociological analysis. Networks differ from the old

sociological units of the small group or the community in that the latter

refer to exclusive and closed linkages, whereas the new networks are

dynamic, inclusive, and open. The network society not only has a major

effect on the development of capitalism and commerce but also invades

theworlds of politics and culture.While it enables cooperation on amuch

wider scale and allows for instantaneous forms of reciprocity, many of

the institutions constructed around the democratic state and around the

contract between capital and labor have lost their meaning to individual

people (B. Turner and Rojek 2001). Not only political institutions but

also the sphere of work and production seem to be losing its force to bind

citizens in solidarity.

The fact that information has become instantaneously available

throughout the globe has enormous consequences. Bauman presents an

interesting analysis of the impact of the changed role played by time

and space for social cohesion. The former small-scale communities were

“brought into being and kept alive by the gap between the nearly instantaneous

communication inside the small-scale community . . . and

the enormity of time and expense needed to pass information between

localities” (Bauman 1998: 15). Nowadays, intracommunity communication

has no advantage over intercommunal exchange, as both are instantaneous.

Bauman describes how traditional societies were organized

around the unmediated capacities of human bodies: “Conflict was chinto-

chin. Combat was hand-to-hand. Justice was an eye-for-an-eye, a

tooth-for-a-tooth. Debate was heart-to-heart. Solidarity was shoulderto-

shoulder. Community was face-to-face. Friendship was arm-in-arm.

And, change was step-by-step” (Bauman 1998: 17). All this has changed

fundamentallywith the advance of the means to stretch these interactions

beyond the reach of the human eye and arm.

Although most globalization literature is concernedwithmoney, labor,

and markets, care can also become globalized. As care is a core aspect

of solidarity, the phenomenon of what Arlie Hochschild calls “global

care chains” is extremely interesting from our perspective. These chains

are composed of “a series of personal links between people across the

globe based on the paid or unpaid work of caring” (Hochschild 2000:

131). Women are usually making up these chains, although men may

participate in them as well. The global chains usually go from poor to

rich countries. They often connect three sets of caretakers: “[O]ne cares

for the migrant’s children back home, a secondcares for the children of the

woman who cares for the migrant’s children, and a third, the migrating

mother herself, cares for the children of professionals in the FirstWorld.

Poorer women raise children for wealthier women while still poorer – or

older or more rural – women raise their children” (136).

The globalization process creates new possibilities for solidarity but

may also result in new forms of inequality, thereby putting new strains

on solidarity. One paradoxical effect of globalization is that immediate

reciprocity has diminished to the extent that justice, war, and democracy

are not produced in face-to-face encounters any longer, while a new type

of immediate, virtual reciprocity over the long distance has come into

being.