Report on Globalization Conference, Vigo 24-26 Oct 01

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Chris Rollason

Nov 14, 2001, 10:39:06 PM11/14/01
OF HYBRIDITY AND NOMADISM - Some Personal Impressions of:
'Globalization and Nationalisms': Second International Conference on
Postcolonial Studies, University of Vigo, 24-26 October 2001
(a participant's report)

The geographical position of Vigo, in a region within the Spanish
state that has a historic national identity and located a mere thirty
kilometres from the frontier with Portugal, defines it as a more than
suitable venue for the conference on 'Globalization and Nationalisms'
[Second International Conference on Postcolonial Studies], organized
by the language faculty of the University and held from 24 to 26
October 2001.

The objective of the conference was to examine the phenomenon of
globalization using 'an interdisciplinary approach that encompasses
the fields of culture, economy, politics, history, the arts, etc',
and, more particularly, to consider a number of specific aspects,
including 'relationships between nationalism, multiculturalism and
globalization', 'new notions of citizenship', 'tensions between the
local and the global in literature and the arts', and more. The
subject of globalization, eminently topical for a whole host of
reasons, not excluding the upcoming World Trade Organization summit in
Qatar, had, only six weeks before the conference was due to begin,
inevitably acquired a fresh urgency and a darker tone in the wake of
the events of the 11 September 2001. A number of participants had
completely rewritten their draft papers following those grim events.
Others, too, who had been due to take part were unfortunately not able
to be present for one and another reason, but the great majority of
promised speakers honoured Vigo with their presence as expected.

The proceedings took place in the city-centre location of the Centro
Cultural Caixanova, an attractive Art Deco building just five minutes
from the harbour and promenade. The agreeable facilities reflected the
outside support which the conference was able to draw on, from the
Caixanova bank itself, the city council and the regional government.

The official languages of the conference were three: Galician, Spanish
and English. The three days' proceedings consisted of four plenary
lectures and some eighty 20-minute papers, organized into parallel
round tables with between two and four speakers each, with slots
allotted on the basis of the speakers' language. There were also two
literary sessions at which writers read extracts from their works. The
social aspect was not neglected, with a reception offered at the town
hall on the first day and a highly convivial closing supper, complete
with octopus and tuna empanadas.

One excellent feature of the organization was the provision to all
participants of a booklet containing abstracts of all the papers.
These abstracts (now also available to the world on the conference
website) allowed all to decide on an informed basis which round tables
to go to, while at the same time enabling them to obtain a bird's-eye
view of the sessions they were not able to attend.

As befitted the theme of the conference, the participants - the great
majority of them academics - were drawn from a wide geographical
spectrum. Most, though not all, fell into one of two major groups -
those from Galicia or from elsewhere in the Spanish state, and those
from the English-speaking world (including native Anglophones teaching
in other parts of the globe, from Finland to Turkey). Also represented
were the academic communities of such countries as Israel, India and

Some half of the papers given fell within the literature and language
field, while the rest, in keeping with the interdisciplinary rubric,
concentrated on political, sociological, educational or media aspects
of globalization. Particular stress was also laid on the problems
thrown up by globalization at local level, with special reference to
the present situation and future prospects of the Galician language,
both within the Spanish state and in an international context
increasingly dominated by English.

The papers on literature were mostly concentrated in the field of
postcolonial studies, with subjects ranging from Caribbean women's
writing to the modern Zimbabwean novel. European literature featured
on the periphery, in the shape of a paper on José Saramago, the
Portuguese Nobel laureate and vocal opponent of market-led
globalization; while one of the most interesting debates focused on
the polemic over the relative merits of expatriate Indian writing in
English and India's homegrown regional-language literatures. On the
vexed question of globalization and the media, contributions included
an instructive critique of the language of press and TV coverage of
global conflicts and a detailed constrastive analysis of Israeli and
Palestinian media reporting. In the sociological area, subjects
discussed in the papers included the emblematic role of American fast
food for modern Turkish youth, the development of civil society and
NGOs in Iran, and the appearance of a new kind of transnational social
group among the expatriate employees of multinational companies.
Other, perhaps less easily classifiable, topics presented were the
cultural identity of Oceanian island communities, the symbolism of
Native Australian sporting figures, and the problems of art education
in West Africa. The authentically global reach of participants'
concerns was evident throughout.

The organization into parallel seminars meant that, inevitably, no one
participant's experience of the conference could be exactly the same
as any other's. The interdisciplinary nature of the proceedings and
the free-flowing, informal atmosphere nonetheless permitted a wide
range of exchanges of experience, both inside the conference proper
and on its fringes.

My own experience of the debates threw up a large number of ideas, of
which three, for me at least, emerged as particularly useful pointers
for further study and debate in this crucial field of globalization.
First, hybridity: if we are to avoid the kind of black-and-white
polarizations (East vs West, Jihad vs McWorld) that are unfortunately
characterising both sides in the present global conflict, we would do
well to start seeing our own identities as impure and mongrel, the
product of multiple and contradictory cultural influences. Second,
fightback: so-called 'third-world' or 'developing' societies are not
mere passive victims of globalization, nor are they condemned to blind
and negative forms of revolt - rather, their own societies contain the
cultural resources that should, at least in halfway favourable
conditions, allow them to react back on the process and make the
'developed' world more aware of their concerns and their strengths by
creative and positive means. Third, the concept of the global nomad:
many of the participants in this conference are or have been some kind
of exile, émigré or expatriate themselves, and the very notion of
global interaction implies a loosening of the rigid bonds of ethnicity
and origin, at a time when some at least of the globe's inhabitants
are staking their claim to a new form of shifting, in-between,
both-and identity in which the true emotional citizenship is no longer
national but planetary. As Edward Said, himself no mean prototype of
the global nomad, has said, 'no-one today is purely one thing'. A
perception like this is essential if we are to make any constructive
sense out of today's contradictory world, and from an occasion like
this it can only have come out stronger.

Christopher Rollason, Metz, France, November 2001

As my intention in writing these brief impressions has been to
communicate something of the feel of this conference, I have not
mentioned individual participants by name. I do, however, very much
wish to thank the organizers, Ana Bringas López and Belén Martín
Lucas, and their helpful back-up team of students, for their efficient
and amiable facilitation of the whole event. The full programme, with
details of speakers and abstracts of all the papers, may be found on
the official conference site at:

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