po-mo is part of the world-system, not a virus

Tue, 11 Mar 1997 10:35:56 -0700 (MST)
Albert J Bergesen (albert@U.Arizona.EDU)

WSNers--Along with long waves in the global political economy there are
corresponding long waves of cultural forms, which frame the discourse of
the age. In short, hegemony (unicentricity) is associated with
universalistic frames; rivalry (multicentricity) with particularistic
frameworks. These are part of the world's power dynamics. They are not
accidental, or "viruses". General, universal, theory--and abstract
modernism in the arts (classicism earlier)--is a means of hegemonic
cultural domination, suppressing the voices of particular groups within
nations, and nations within the world. With hegemonic decline comes the
lessening of this universalist grid of discourse, and with American
decline, comes the Mannerism (the po-mo of Spanish/Hapsburgh hegemonic
decline) of our age, post-modernism. Remeber what the title means:
modernism was the world of universalism, and post-modernism is the
world of particularism. Particular groups, ethnicities, genders,
sexual preferences. What shifts is the frame: race, class, gender, can
be done as a consequence of mode of production, capitalist development, world
systemic position, etc. But that is from the frame of hegemonic cultural
universalism, which has now passed on to particularism, such that one
believes there is no longer any general theory, or if there is, it is but
an intellectual fig leaf for oppressions of various particular
groups: race, class, gender.

In short, in our age of hegemonic decline, this is the way race, class,
gender will be talked about. The goal is to join the debate, or to
subsume it somehow, but not just put our world-systemic heads in the
intellectual sand. To the Binghamton School's credit they have made, more
or less, constant efforts to reach out to these new intellectual
developments. For that IW should be praised.

Remember too in ones world-systemic quickness to judge that these are not
called the "new social movements" without reason: they seemed not to fall
prey to explanation by traditional universalist theories of class, mode of
production, and I would add, world system status. The "economic" lost
favor in late 20th century intellectual life for a reason: class just
wasn't the best explanation for the new social movements; neither, I would
add, has world system theory been any better. IW's smugness of "we
said it earlier" is not all that correct, of if so, how come we are on the
margins of contemporary intellectual debates about gender, class, race,
ethnicity, sexual preference? If world-systemness is a general frame, and
this is an age of particularism, then we may be on the outside for a
while, or even if making convincing arguments they will not be heard. Our
conditionis a little of both: we aren't heard and we haven't made the
best of arguments on these particular issues.

So, over the long history of the world system, global consciousness swings
back and forth between the general and the particular; each puts down the
other; each claism to be the ideology of liberation--remember that po mo
claims a better, more radical, more liberated, way of doing things. They
claim a higher progressivity; they claim you are part of the past and
irrelevant. The universalists make the same clain during their period,
and both--and this is the key point here--serve the power of the world

Particularism allows for the mobilization of national populations for
core-wars, struggles, etc. Universalism allows for hegemonic domination
by framing the world as a unity (under hegemonic leadership/domination,
of course). We are in the pre-hegemonic succession struggles stage. We
are heading from hegemonic universalism in theory and the arts, to a 30s
like social realism of my group vs. yours. Both are functional. Both
serve power. Both claim to be liberation and prgressivity; but ultimately
both are cultural outlooks within the working framework of the world
system, and as such, serve its power dynamics.

al b.

Albert Bergesen
Department of Sociology
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721
Phone: 520-621-3303
Fax: 520-621-9875
email: albert@u.arizona.edu