Olivier Roy Interview (2007): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Globalization and Islam: Conversation with Olivier Roy, Professor, School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, Paris; January 25, 2007, by Harry Kreisler

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Globalization

Olivier, welcome back to Berkeley.

Thank you.

Give us a sense of what globalization is all about and how it's changing our lives.

Globalization now can be defined as some sort of common space which has no territorial basis. We can have access to this space, of course through the internet, but also by different means, and in this space values, ideas, habits, norms are a secular thing without any reference to a specific culture, to a specific society. So, of course it means that languages are [limited to] specific culture, and by definition English is becoming the global language. People can have access very easily to this global space.

Could you give me an example of something the average American can understand of how they are part of that space? Maybe they don't even know it.

For instance, if you take fashion, from blue jeans to street-wear, then you see that the youth in very different places buy and wear exactly the same clothing. What we call street-wear here in the States is also very common among the youth in France, in Great Britain, in Eastern Europe, and probably in other parts of the world. Food, also. Let's take the "McDonald's effect." You have McDonald's everywhere in the world, or the equivalent of McDonald's, fast food, is now very popular among the youth.

Debates, also: the debates about, for instance, gay rights. You have the same debates in Great Britain, in America, in Zimbabwe, in India, or even in China. So, you have this generalization of norms, values, debates and stakes, and people are watching what's going on elsewhere. Any important debate which could happen in the States is debated everywhere else. Take, for instance, recently the debate about racism on channel four in Great Britain. You had immediately demonstrations in India about that.

In making [sense of] this world, two factors that come to mind. One is the power of technology to convey these images. The other is the globalization of international capital in a new way. Are those the factors that make possible this globalization?

Of course, by definition technology is helping to spread this globalization, but the globalization is not just a consequence of the new technology. The globalization did start before the invention of internet, but the spread of internet is also linked with the fact that globalization existed. So, technology is part of this new world. It's not just the cause for it.

How does this phenomena impact the individual? What becomes his primary problem?

The primary problem, if you can say that, is you don't need to be part of a tight-knit social fabric, even to have a strong local social life. You can debate, you can think of yourself as an actor in a sense by participating in debates, by watching what is going on elsewhere, by having an opinion about things which would be very far from you, without being associated with a local culture, a local community, or even a local citizenship. So, we have this interesting discrepancy between the local and the global.

What is at stake here, you would say, is more national identities than merely local identities. What is threatened by this globalization is the national identity, the traditional nation state.

In all of this, we're very much aware of the uprooting of people physically -- global migrations, diasporas, and so on. Talk a little about that. It seems to be a key element in our contemporary situation.

Yes, mobility is a key factor, and of course migrations are part of the mobility, but mobility goes beyond migration. The migration phenomenon is well known, it's almost always from east to west and from south to north. But it's not all the story. You have people going back and forth, you have the mobility of the intellectuals, which is very important. Now you can, for example, graduate from a European country and spend some years in America, and then take a position in Singapore or Tokyo. So, we have a universal space of scholarship with a trend to align the curriculum of different countries, and also to align the debates on specific intellectual issues. You have also the mobility of professionals, of people [like] engineers, for example, technicians who can go here and there. And you have also [what] you could call the virtual mobility, people who can stay physically at home, like for example, computer engineers from India, but who can work in India for a transnational network and be in touch on a daily basis with people from everywhere around the world. So, mobility is a general phenomenon and it's far more complex than just migrations.

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