Being Modern without being Western…is it possible? – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
A common issue that most developing, non-Western countries are grappling with is finding a way to incorporate the current sense we have of “modernity” into everyday life without losing the very distinctly non-Western identity they have. Since “modern” has become synonymous with Western, it is difficult to distinguish what is fundamentally culture and what is necessary for development. So is it possible for these non Western countries to design their development trajectory so that it includes all the economic, technological and political progress without adopting the actual cultural-ideological systems in which they exist in the West?
There is evidence that would suggest that both options are plausible and currently occurring around the world. Through the influences of media (mainly Hollywood and the internet) and the dominating political and economic forces of the United States and the European Union most other countries are left with an overwhelming pressure to conform to the Western mode of existence. On a larger scale we see that some of these countries, especially those that have been colonized, even from conception had the idea of nation states and borders (in the sense that we think of them now) imposed upon them. The political and economic models adopted (and encouraged through targeted aid and international organizations) by these countries to survive in a world where they had no time to orient themselves took away their ability to organically and naturally work through the needs of their society and establish a system that can function with their many unique cultures. Not only does this process of global imperialism have the power to affect the way people in these countries live their everyday lives (what language they learn, the role models they look up to), but it can also be seen as a possible cause for the constant state of chaos most of these countries seem to be stuck in.
On a smaller scale we can also see people from these countries (especially the youth) immersing themselves in Western popular culture and in some ways ignoring/forgetting the rich and beautiful ones they have so close to them. Global popular media, by setting so called trends and the scars of colonization that have caused a deep and internalized inferiority complex within people come together to create the seductive attraction to the West people seem to experience. Of course the lack of comprehensive understanding of their own culture (which might not necessarily be their fault), the Western culture and history can feed into the choices made by people. If people and especially the youth seem to be moving in this direction, are we then in danger of losing these precious cultures?
On the opposite end we find a country like China that has been trying very hard to reject westernized models and ideas and have been relatively successful, although the economic and social sectors are less so. All of this, of course does not mean to imply that the people in the West have not been affected (although on a smaller scale) by the rest of the world in different realms of their life. In the increasingly globalized world we live in today it is almost impossible to have a country that is not somehow influenced by the foreign nations (North Korea might be a peculiar exception).
The answer for developing countries that are dealing with globalization and the other global imperial and colonial forces mentioned above does not involve figuring out a way to completely isolate and preserve cultures as they are, but finding a way to incorporate certain ideas and concepts without completely abandoning their own identities. We can find examples of this happening in different countries as well. In Ethiopia for instance there have been movements in the fashion industry to integrate traditional clothing with western fashion trends. They use the same fabric/patterns and design them to also follow popular fashion trends. Another simple example would be the way we eat. Traditionally everyone at the table would eat from one big plate, but now it is more common to eat from individual plates. All of our food is eaten by hand; that is something that has not changed. Large scale changes in our political and economic systems will be very difficult, but if the state is anything like the individual (Plato’s philosophy) we know that it is possible.
Eleni serves as an editor for The North Star Reports.
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu
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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Eleni Birhane and Matthew Breeze, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.
(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu