Cities are the playgrounds or battlegrounds

Knowledge brokering09 Dec 2009

Yesterday, I wrote about new actors and global processes ‘infiltrating’ the national arena; not only the economic arena (economic globalization is a well known and accepted phenomenon, although the consequences and policies towards it are heavily debated), but also in the cultural and – less accepted – political arena.

In a similar vein, I look at the enormously exaggerated attention given to society’s ‘underbelly’. In the Netherlands, the mass media have done quite a lot of ‘self reflection’ after the emergence of populist politicians like Pim Fortuyn (who was murdered in 2002) and his political successors. They analyzed their own policies as having missed out some central tendencies in Dutch society, meaning: quite a large part of the Dutch lower and middle classes feel increasingly unsafe, insecure and unpleasant in their own environment. It is commonly claimed within the media that the main reason for this is the growth of a segment in Dutch society that has another – read Islamic – religion and/or culture. This analysis goes on to state that political correctness has led to the ignoring of this deep feeling among the people – ignoring this underbelly of Dutch society. And it is the task of the media to inform objectively about what is going on in the country. So, since about seven years ago, we can read and hear the Dutch underbelly every day, even in quality newspapers and TV programmes.

I do not deny that there are tensions as a result of different cultures and social backgrounds having to live together – I myself live in an Amsterdam neighbourhood with more than 50% foreigners, with more than 100 nationalities. What I state is that this is one of the many manifestations of the ever-growing globalization of national societies. A globalization that is, I am afraid, unstoppable and not fully controllable. But we can try to manage it better, change its course, try to understand the patterns, minimize its negative output and facilitate positive outcomes. For that we need to analyze better, in a different manner. One precondition for such analysis is that we do not – only – take the local or national as the basic unit of analysis, but the global (or at least regional). Another starting point is that we have to have an open eye for those trends and actors that are less obvious – to not only look at states and their formal relationships, but also for other dynamics and actors.

Cities, as stated in my blog post yesterday, are one of those relatively new actors in the global world. And they are the playgrounds or battlegrounds where people have to cope with the new realities of the clash between the local and the global.