Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture Copyright © 1995 Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture
All rights reserved.
ISSN 1070-8286


Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 3(3) (1995) 74-77


Cultural Identity and Global Process.

Author: Friedman, J.
Publisher: Sage Publications: London. 270pp.
Year: 1994.

Friedman, a social anthropologist at the University of Lund, has collected a dozen articles "partly reworked from published and unpublished articles and papers" produced over the past fifteen years (pp. vi, viii). All of the articles have previously appeared in print, or are shortly to do so, in one version or another.

These articles express "themes related to the practice of identity and the construction of cultural forms as they relate to the social forms of experience that are rooted in increasingly larger-scale social processes" (p. vi), and in Friedman's view, draw out "critical issues in the development of a global anthropology" (p. vi). Although the intended audience is not specifically identified, probably due to the diverse circumstances under which the articles were originally presented or published, the collection is clearly intended for a scholarly audience in the social sciences.

The first six and final two articles cover a wide range of topics such as the role of cultural anthropology as a colonial science, some of the economic and political processes associated with modernity, the concepts of primitivism and civilization in global perspective, and the emergence of disorder and disintegration in modern experience. Most of these essays return, as the title of the volume suggests, to problems of personal identity formation amid impersonal global forces. There is little sustained empirical analysis in this group of papers, which are mainly organized around elaborate conceptual typologies or "strategies" of globalization (e.g., pp. 82-84, pp. 203-204). Although, as Friedman has correctly noted (p. vi), there is substantial "overlap" among these essays; they do not present a consistent or integrated theory of identity formation and globalization. While this might be rather exciting if it were clear that Friedman were working through a finite series of problems as he wrote, the impression given is instead one of mere incoherence.

Essays 7-10 offer case studies of identity formation in geographical and cultural regions such as the modern Congo and Hawaii. Friedman's analysis of les sapeurs of the Congo, dandies who are almost but [End page 74] not quite equivalent to Benjamin's flaneurs, develops the important theme of consumption and selfhood. A comparable examination of the formation of "Hawaiianness" as a contested identity since the 19th century traces notions of history, tourism, tradition, and revelation (among others) as significant components. Friedman is at his best in these four articles, which come the closest to realizing his goal of matching global struggles to local life worlds and social experiences (p. vii). Unfortunately, the reader is kept at such a distance from any actual actors in these cultural situations that the experiential data seem rather insubstantial, despite Friedman's expressed agenda.

There are three serious problems with this collection which make me loathe to recommend it. First, the author's attempts to discuss "themes" and "critical issues" in modernity and globalism fail to engage seriously the relevant thought of such major figures as Marx, Weber, Foucault, Durkheim, Benjamin, Freud, Wallerstein, Simmel, Frank, or Braudel. References to these scholars are at best casual: for instance, it's quite astonishing to see Foucault cursorily dismissed as a proponent of "Freudian-inspired sociology" (p. 82). To take another example, although Friedman solemnly warns us that "there is a vast literature. . ." supporting his discussion of "Individualism," "Democracy," "Industrial capitalism," and other broad categories of "phenomena classified as specific to the modern era" (p. 214), he goes on to discuss these phenomena without addressing any of that literature! Even lesser authors whom Friedman cites often or at length, such as Bourdieu, Campbell, Dumont, and Levi-Strauss, seem to be invoked more for emphasis than critical examination; Roland Robertson is the only exception.

Second, the author's empirical basis for his numerous generalizations is often uncertain. For instance, in his otherwise stimulating discussion of "the political economy of elegance" in the Congo (ch. 9) Friedman frequently cites Ekholm Friedman, Gandoulou, Balandier, and Pigafetta, but never positions himself or his own fieldwork in relation to his ethnographic account. Even more obscure is his discussion of Hawaiian identity formation (ch. 8), where Friedman cites his own publications elsewhere, but does not directly inform the reader of his ethnographic sources. This seems especially unfortunate given that Friedman reminds us so often throughout the volume of his concern with "the culture concept" (e.g., [End page 75] ch. 4). A particularly egregious instance of Friedman's careless treatment of ethnographic authority is his glorification of "subaltern discourses" (p.25), even though throughout the collection of essays no voice but his own is ever heard, and none of the major post- colonial authors is cited.

Third, the style in these articles is by turns turgid, vaporous, apodictic, banal, and pretentious. After all has been said and done, it is by no means clear that the few insights gleaned are worth the hard labor of deciphering Friedman's awful prose style. Here are a few examples, by no means the worst I could find:

"Anthropology is born out of the ideological representation of the center/periphery/margins structure of our civilization as an evolutionary relation between civilization and its less developed forerunners, a mistranslation of space into time" (p.5).
"The civilizational model is a product of the fundamental transformation of society in the center, a rapid disorganization and reorganization disintegrating older personal, familial and community bonds and replacing them by contractual, monetary and bureaucratic relations, and a violent expansion and integration of a periphery-to-be" (p.48).
". . . the paradoxical appearance that combines deindustrialization and gentrification, increased poverty and increased wealth, slumification and yuppification, and the increased stratification of the 'really declining' centers is a single systematic process" (p.169).
"Where the modern has his self, or ego, as the locus of his life project's authority, the tendency in traditional societies is that the project and its authority exist external to the human subject, in the larger social network and its cosmological principles" (p. 172).
"This world of shifting loci of capital accumulation, of shifting political hegemonies, of new peripheralizations and increasing integration, and of delinking and political autonomization does not produce a mishmash of formerly pure culture in some world systemic potpourri" (p. 188). [End page 76]
While I have no doubt that individually these papers were highly stimulating in their original contexts, the decision to combine them in a single volume unfortunately highlights their very real theoretical, empirical, and stylistic shortcomings. Those interested in identity formation and globalism would do far better to consult one of the classic sociologists mentioned above for illumination.

Alan Aycock
University of Lethbridge
Department of Anthropology [End page 77]