Looking At Local Knowledge And Globalisation Cultural Studies Essay

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Globalisation as a phenomenon has become an inevitable fact in today's time. It defies any peculiar definition; reason being, as a process it is complicated. This process of globalisation is multidimensional and discourses on it have myriad connotations. In addition, the debate on globalisation is wide-ranging and is marked by many disagreements. Still, to put it broadly, it is about the growing interconnectedness in the socio-cultural, economic and the environmental arena which the world is witnessing today. This increasing interconnectedness has also accelerated the interaction between the global and the local. In the words of McGrew(1992):

Globalisation has two dimensions: the dimension of scope and the dimension of intensity. Social processes become stretched across the globe and the interconnectedness, the interaction and the interdependence, also become intensified. Economic activity is expanded across the globe and economic relations are intensified. This is enabled by institutional change at global scale, mainly by liberalisation policies and international agreements... [1] 

The central argument which this paper addresses is that -though globalisation has played a pivotal role in making interaction and mixing of local knowledge of the communities possible, yet at the same time it has also undermined the local knowledge by bringing in homogeneity and emphasising on universality rather than diversity.

The main question which arises in this context is what is global and what is local? Simply put, global is something which occurs at the level of the globe, the entire world and it transcends any boundary formed by any nation or any region within that nation. Local, on the other hand is something which occurs at the grass root level, at the level of a nation, at the level of the communities of people and it is restricted by the boundaries.

The global - local link turned stronger with the coming up of the globalisation but this did not necessarily have brighter side to it and that in many instances it caused harm to the local which includes within its ambit communities at the grass root level, various regions within a country, country itself, its local industries and also, not to forget, the local knowledge.

The term local knowledge became visible with the coming of the scholarship movements of cultural studies and post-colonialism. Suresh Canagarajah looks at it from different perspectives to define it. In the anthropological sense it is about different beliefs which come from the social practices of various communities with their own worldview, values and reason.

...beliefs and orientations emerging from the social practices of a community through its history .These beliefs have their own rationale and validity, though they may differ from the knowledge forms valued at the global level. [2] 

According to Canagarajah, in the academic sense it refers to the knowledge which eludes falling within the boundary of dominant disciplines.

...knowledge that diverges from what is established or legitimized in the disciplines .The beliefs that do not fall within the established paradigms continue to circulate unofficially at the local level among smaller groups. [3] 

In the social sense it:

...contrasts with the official knowledge informing the policies and procedures of various institutions (legal, fiscal, political). People generally develop extra-institutional (or "vernacular") discourses in their everyday life about how to negotiate these relations in their own terms. [4] 

However, certain common assumptions are related to the term which are its context bound, community based and non-systematic nature. These characteristics are attached to it because it is generated through social practices in everyday life.

Often, local knowledge is undermined in its value when compared to the modern forms of knowledge in this globalised world. It is perceived as something which is parochial, irrational and backward looking and is also considered as something which has not been examined thoroughly. As a result, it loses its legitimacy in the era of scientific knowledge where everything is backed by empirical and scientific data. Hence, some forms of local knowledge such as magic, folklore and myth lose their sheen and are looked down upon with low estimation and with sheer inequality with so called scientific knowledge.

When one delves deeper and tries to find the answer to this state of affairs where local knowledge is devalued, one finds fault with the very nature of knowledge construction where too much emphasis is laid on modern values of 'generalisation, systematisation and model building'. [5] This over emphasis on scientific ways: generalisation, systematisation and universality induces bias where different experiences of various communities are subdued under it and do not get any alternative platform to express their voices. Here, the construction of knowledge gets linked to the politics of power. The knowledge forms of the powerful exercises its dominion and other knowledge forms are made to seem silly while confronting it.

...such activities of knowledge formation are not innocent, nonpartisan, or value-free. There is the question as to whose perspectives shape interpretation and analysis. The establishment of operative knowledge in any society always involves contestation. What is left out is the local knowledge that constitutes the perspectives and practices of the disempowered. [6] 

Some scholars strongly feel that the most robust and systematic campaign to devalue local knowledge at the global level began with the movement of modernism. (Modernity referred to a set of common features which came to define western countries in the nineteenth century. It mainly laid emphasis on industrialisation, 'individualism' and technology). This movement was inspired by the values of enlightenment. Therefore, the values which were cardinal for this movement were universality, systematisation, standardisation and empirical validity.

Colonialism played a very significant role in spreading these values far and wide, beyond Europe. The European powers set up their own institutions of governance, Europeanised systems of health and education in the colonised countries which led to suppression of the local knowledge of those countries in various domains.

In the case of India the instance of local Ayurvedic medical tradition can be taken. It was based on entirely different values and principles form the western biomedicine. However, no effort was made to understand it. Even when there was no common point of reference to compare it with the western allopathic system, it was compared and on confrontation looked very useless.

Scholars have felt the need to critically engage with it. Another point, on which they have put light, is that even the science of modernism cannot be considered value-neutral. Neither is it based on pure rationality, is it nor of universal relevance. Even modern knowledge is a certain form of local knowledge. It draws from certain cultural traditions of the west and it is in fact, local to various communities in Europe. Here, lies the paradox too. The knowledge which we have come to recognise as global is actually local to the west European communities. This form of knowledge has been able to reinforce its hegemony in such a way that people fail to recognise that even it is local in character and is context - bound.

Canagarajah feels that it is just another form of local knowledge which is posing threat to the indigenous local knowledge of the communities and considers any kind of imposition by the dominant form of knowledge as 'unethical'.

...the challenge for local knowledge is not from global knowledge, universal knowledge, or transcendental knowledge. It is simply from another form of local knowledge, that is, that which belongs to the more powerful communities. It is precisely for this reason that the inequality between intellectual traditions has to be interrogated without presumptions about the universal validity or legitimacy of any single form of knowledge. There is something unethical about one tradition of local knowledge lording it over other forms of local knowledge. [7] 

Despite, the existence of these dominant forms of knowledge at the global level, local has not vanished from the scene. In fact the local has adapted itself to it but it does not remain in its pure form. It has negotiated with the global. In the words of Appadorai(1996):

The local realizations of the global have not always followed the expectations of the metropole. Dominant discourses have been taken over selectively and, sometimes, superficially to facilitate a convenient coexistence with local cultures. [8] 

Globalisation has been successful in integrating different communities at the global level not the whole. As a result, this situation has created greater visibility for the local in the global space. It gets reflected in the popular concepts of multiculturalism, hybridity, pluralism which provide the space for the local.

Globalisation has spurred technological changes. Technological advances in the sphere of telecommunications as well as other spheres has brought the world closer resulting in increased awareness about previously unknown communities. In the sphere of industries too, the work is no more centred. The entire process has got decentred. A network of communities is functioning that procure labour, expertise and resources for production, around the world.

People and corporations are looking for new business opportunities. Henceforth, multinational companies are reaching out to previously unknown localities in search of new potential markets. In order to sell their products in these new localities, they feel the pressing need of sophisticated cultural understanding of those communities.

Many scholars feel that globalisation, no matter when it started has been detrimental to the growth of the local knowledge. Even when the concepts of multiculturalism and pluralism have gained currency, it has not been of much help for the local knowledge.

Despite the myriad symbols that pluralize contemporary cultural and communicative life, economy still shows sharp disparities between the rich and the poor .Therefore, the local finds representation only according to the purposes and forms permitted by the powerful. [9] 

Local, however, has been changing itself to suit the requirements of the ever changing world. It is doing so to resist the global as well as for its own survival and existence in the world. Few scholars have expressed the need of engaging constructively and productively with other knowledge traditions. They believe that it can be done only when the localness of our own knowledge is acknowledged.

Scholars like Peter winch too recognised that it was not justified to compare the local knowledge forms with scientific knowledge forms as the norms of rationality which certain social practices follow cannot be understood using the standards and rationality of modern science. In this context, in his work, 'Understanding a Primitive Society' he examines magical practices and beliefs of the Azande tribe of Africa. He believes that nothing is absolutely objective. All values, norms and beliefs come from a worldview. He also believes that it is very difficult for an outsider to fully comprehend the practices prevalent in a specific way of life. Similarly, to criticise the magic practices of the Azande tribe would not be plausible for an outsider because he/she has not been raised up upholding those worldviews.

We see that in the era of globalisation, we are confronting an ironical situation where people are increasingly becoming aware of various local communities and their knowledge forms. Yet, the diversity of local knowledge has got subordinated and the tendency remains towards homogenisation and arriving at a universal law, applicable in all contexts, without keeping in mind the variability of contexts. The challenge remains in critical engagement of the local with the global where there is no hesitation in revealing the limitations of the construction and practice of dominant knowledge forms.