The Everyone, Everywhere: Global Dimensions of Citizenship

 

The Everyone, Everywhere: Global Dimensions of Citizenship

Theme: Global Citizenship

Author:
Name:
Dé Bryant
Title:
Director, Social Action Project (SOCACT)
Institution:
Indiana University South Bend, IN
Constituent Group:
Faculty

We get the scripts for handling life’s challenges from folklore, fables, and fairy tales. Tales from around the world admonish us to fear the unknown and the darkness from tales of terrible things lurking there. In Xhosa folklore he is called the tokoloshe; in North America he is called the Boogyman. Other bedtime stories tell us how to treat our mother, brother, sister, wife, or father. In Umdhlubu’s tale, the frog taught townspeople and the girl’s father that the privileges of peaceful community life also carry obligations, one person to another.

To speculate that the tales may illuminate global citizenship, I must first explain my perception of what the term means. Though the definitional arguments currently rage in the theoretical literature, in a very practical sense a global citizen is a person with the ability to work, play, and live somewhere other than the land of their birth. Beyond simply having multiple addresses, this person exhibits agency (is proactive and engaged in civic life) and primacy (has the capacity to make change happen). At the emotional and philosophical level, the global citizen considers herself to be transnational: committed to the human issues no matter in what nation state they occur.

If we begin with this definition, one truth — with a lower case ‘t’ — is that as human beings we have shared experiences. The ideals and values these stories impart highlight our shared humanity. This obvious truth bears repeating: As we are all human beings, we share experiences and issues in common. To internationalize service-learning, therefore, we need to connect with this shared reality and explore its foundations. We will need to understand how we came to this place in our social history to see clearly what direction to go from here.

My own discipline, psychology, has long insisted on using rigidly controlled methodologies to expand our understanding of the human experience. This disciplinary stance is rooted in historical links with fields such as agronomy, biology, and chemistry. For a doctor, a heart is a heart and it is never a liver; the agronomist can reasonably expect lettuce seeds will never produce radishes; and the chemist can safely presume that gases, solids, and liquids have predictable qualities. Strong voices in psychology’s literature advocate for research that will allow the same specific classification systems for mental health. Hence, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, now in its fifth edition, has evolved from 350 categories to over 600 main categories, with accompanying subcategories, which are cross-referenced with still other qualifying information.

To generate data with this level of presumed specificity, the discipline relies on experimental methodology. In its strictest form, an experiment involves random assignment of subjects to condition (treatment) groups which are compared to control (non-treatment) groups. Factors are identified, numbers are assigned, measures are taken, and the results are analyzed using sophisticated statistics. The objective is to determine the degree of confidence one can have that the outcome did not occur by chance (p-value).

According to this philosophy of discovery, only knowledge generated empirically is valid. With our scientific lens firmly set on what an elite few define as “normal,” monolithic thinking and ethnocentricity are raised to the status of Truth — with a capital “T.” Service-learning’s emphasis on reflection-action and social constructivism has pried open the discussion. Tensions still remain in the discipline that can be traced to the original question about defining knowledge. The debate’s epicenter is whether priority should go to educating students — academic knowledge dispensed in classrooms — or creating social change — ordinary knowledge held by everyday people living with the issues at stake1.

Academic knowledge can be acquired through intensive study and systematic investigation. It is quantifiable in the sense that one can learn an amount sufficient to be declared an expert. As proof of our intellectual prowess (or personal stamina!), we receive degrees, certifications, accreditations, and licenses. Consequently, academic knowledge is standardized and routinized. When students ask, we can provide the technical distinction between a psychologist, a psychoanalyst, a clinical social worker, an applied sociologist, and a social psychologist.

By contrast, ordinary knowledge is a tapestry, a kaleidoscope, a maelstrom of sights and sounds and memories and emotions. It is socially constructed and embedded in this thing we all call culture. We can agree that culture is shared, we believe that it is homogenous, and we imagine we who adhere to its norms are a community. But, many times, we cannot agree what all that means. Ordinary knowledge is subjective and idiosyncratic and nearly endlessly diverse regarding gender, race, social class, ability, religion or creed, to name just a few distinctions.

The debate about the legitimacy of knowledge highlights why considering a global dimension to citizenship stymies so many social scientists. To understand how acting locally is the same as acting globally, we must examine what some have called modernity or instrumental rationality. Contemporary life has given us access to knowledge and resources beyond the wildest imaginings my parents’ generation could have conjured. Using cell phones and the Internet we can access knowledge in bytes and megabytes and sound bytes. At our morning breakfast we can be global consumers with biscotti from Italy, coffee from Brazil, and English marmalade on Texas toast. Or we can take advantage of cheap international travel to turn destination posters into Kodak moments.

Because we are enmeshed in this market economy, our first tendency is to interpret all of life using the language of buying and selling and zero-sum games. Even psychology’s technical jargon for helping people connect with other people is not immune. One theory of attraction is called the exchange theory: in relationships, we give only as much as required to receive what we want. The cost-benefit theory of attraction is even more calculating: we decide what we will give based on its value in relation to what we are likely to receive.

International scholars such as Alberto Guerreiro Ramos have posited that we cannot think clearly about globalization until we set aside not only the language of the market economy but also its accompanying assumptions about privileges and duties2. The result is our reliance on images and languages that have been misappropriated from their original purposes. The Zulu practice of lobola is an excellent example. This is a complex practice of exchanging goods at the time of a wedding. Historically, this has meant cattle were given to the family of the bride when she left for the home of her new husband. But more than the exchange of property was at stake. The practice also created a web of affiliations across generations and social circles. Families, thus united, solidified communities and became the source of identity, connection and symbolic capital.

South Africa’s colonial history codified lobola, a rich and complex cultural tradition, into static customary law with the Native Land Act of 1913. The result was that the Zulu peoples were pushed off their land where communities shared (or bartered) and into an economy where outsiders paid them wages. Over time the new language of the market economy was used to reinterpret lobola. The practice shifted from its relational purpose to being wage-based and driven by the market, not by tradition. During apartheid, the practice eroded further until it became perceived by many as a remittance paid to the woman’s family for her care and feeding while in their house. The ideals of relationship building and community development were increasingly obscured by the language of buying, selling, and profiteering. In post-apartheid South Africa, the practice is caught in the crossfire of debates that pit feminist ideology against traditional practices3.

The disconnect between the language used to describe practices such as lobola and the tradition itself helps us understand the phenomena Richard Kiely calls the chameleon complex4. A returning Traveler hides the new insights and revelations gained as she went about her international work. She has discovered that international service-learning is about recognizing substantive rationality; that is, social experience is socially constructed and, therefore, defies the neat categories that academic study has taught her to expect. The Traveler’s struggle is about making the choice to take on the hard social and moral questions. In the case of lobola, feminist literature may rail against its bride payment and gender obligations. The Traveler may know from talking with rural African women that many still perceive its value as a means of building social affiliations and solidifying communities. Are these women deluded and oppressed, as feminist literature would suggest, or are they seeking a new balance between traditional and modern social realities?

The heart of the matter, quite literally, is the critical and complex nature of reciprocity. If everyone, everywhere can be said to have shared experiences, then they also have valuable knowledge about what engaged citizenship requires. To acknowledge the overlapping aspects of our shared human experience, we have to let go of cherished taxonomies. Tapping into this information can only be done by decolonizing methodologies so that others beyond an elite few can articulate the nature of these moral dilemmas5.

Today’s language of stereotypes and zero-sum gamesmanship has deep historical roots. We can see the difficulty in overcoming its influence in the case of Sarah Baartman, a Khosian woman who died in 1815. Her life is important because, like so many other Black Africans, she was taken to colonial Europe and put on display to affirm her racial inferiority. We remember her name, unlike so many others, because she became the focus of a court case when England outlawed slavery. The court decided that she, who was a slave, was nonetheless a willing participant and so was the author of her own fate. Her public display was decreed to be indecent but not unlawful. Sarah Baartman died under mysterious circumstances. Her death is important because of its aftermath: her body was dissected, preserved, and displayed in a Paris museum until 1974. Her remains were not repatriated to South Africa until 2002.

Sarah Baartman has been claimed as an icon of suffering and deliverance by some African-American feminist writers. The colonial attitudes she faced are seen as the prototype for stereotypes Black women still endure of the over sexual woman with abnormal genitals. Yet writers from South Africa posit that western activists claiming her as an act of defiance are also forcibly (and erroneously) interpreting her unique Khosian experience in the western context. In the process of claiming her, western activists are usurping her story. Thus, despite their best intentions, Sarah Baartman’s unique, complex, and historically situated human story has been reduced to a collection of ideological categories.

Academics are too often guilty of the same unintentional destruction, in the name of value-free research initiatives. In reality, research is never neutral. The language of investigation is based on assumptions drawn from academic knowledge gathered from a particular cultural and historical context. Take, for example, the psychological literature on race, gender, and class. Until the consciousness movements of the 1960s and 1970s, theories of personality development presumed a white male CEO; his Hispanic female secretary; the Black servers in the company cafeteria,; and the Native American groundskeeper all had the same psychosocial experience. Ostensibly neutral research was designed — and in significant ways is still being designed — using the unspoken premise that a single standard exists that we could call “normal” and that all individuals can be measured against it.

When ordinary knowledge is ignored, however, the result is that prevailing terminology and theoretical jargon replace individual stories. To many in my profession, this is the ideal state of affairs because — presumably — the resulting conclusions can be applied to everybody precisely because they relate to nobody in particular. Research that asks the CEO, the secretary, the servers, and the gardener to tell their individual stories inserts too many uncontrollable variables into the analysis. Such research flies in the face of the precision experimental designs seek and so methodology trumps contextualizing.

Yet our individual, everyday stories are far more than a collection of spurious variables. They can teach about humanity and citizenship and global citizenship just as the mythical characters teach Truth — with a capital “T” — in cultures around the world. Perhaps we must, as some have suggested, detach the term “citizenship” from the discussion. The term historically has implied nationality but no single nation holds sway over a global citizen. Her activities are transnational and her commitment is to the human issues, not the nation state. Therefore, whether nationality is central to world-mindedness is questionable. One could defend national identity as the springboard for global participation since we tend to view the world through our own cultural lens. Still, the global citizen will have the moral equivalent of photogrey lenses that respond to changing environmental realities.

The global dimension to citizenship is that The Everyone, everywhere is in the global village. We need to advance the discussion of how to promote a global conscience. Precedents already exist outside economic and political institutions, brought about through grassroots activism. These global citizens can be seen at the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle (1999) and Genoa (2001); in the women’s movement from the first wave to the third wave; in the Infant Formula Action Network that organized the boycott against breast milk substitutes; and in faith-based initiatives like KwaSizabantu Mission that feeds, houses, and clothes anyone from anywhere in the world who comes to their doors6.

Clearly this discussion requires a strategy for doing the emotional work involved with moral and identity questions. Service-learning’s emphasis on reflection-action and social constructivism can also be used to pry open this discussion. Now we will move into unknown territory, especially for social science’s pathological obsession about legitimate knowledge.

The past few days I have been mulling over the sights and sounds of Durban, South Africa in 2006. As my research team has made its way to appointments and from various community events, I have tried to let events simmer in the back of my mind. This is the best way for me to allow insight to take its own shape rather than my forcing it into something that is comfortable for me (and potentially fraught with ethnocentric inaccuracies). Several realizations have made themselves known, but they all lead to the same conclusion that is so common as to be a cliché: People are the same all over the world.

As part of our work on this biennial trip, my team and I are writing blogs. I spoke in an early blog about how the city seemed to have changed since our visit in 2004. How people appeared to be more wary and weary, that tensions and paranoia were higher, and that the general climate less friendly or animated. My impressions have been confirmed as we’ve talked to people during our travels around the city by bus and on foot. A general theme has emerged about the declines in everything from the quality of consumer goods to the condition of the roads to the rate of unemployment. People point out the number of homeless “come down from Jo’burg” as evidence of the general malaise that has gripped the country.

Our community partners running NGOs (non-governmental organizations) describe how hard it is to find funds or keep volunteers or maintain participation from their constituent groups. They also raise questions about the very notion of a constituent-group, considering the fact that everyone is affected by the -isms of society. We’ve traded war stories about unruly boards of directors, endless meetings, and paperwork that never dies. The research project I direct is somewhat unique within the NGO community in terms of the Institutional Review Board requirements. However, our partners have their particular oversight requirements to manage as well.

As activists and social change agents, we are of like minds in our passion for social justice and our impatience for posturing. We have shared frustrations and disappointments when those who worked alongside us vanished or (even worse) sabotaged or (worst of all) attacked. We discussed the importance of taking care of our relationships. What good is it to save the world at the cost of relationships, marriages, and family? Some of us recognized taking care of ourselves is also crucial. You can’t give to others if you don’t take time out to refuel and regenerate.

In many ways these realizations are ordinary, almost mundane. Yet they have started me considering the human aspects of citizenship. That is, isn’t there a dimension of citizenship that is about what it means to be a human being no matter what nation-state we call home? We have found experiences on both sides of the ocean that look different on the surface, but about which we can swap stories by only changing the names and places.

So, is there — as our experiences imply — an aspect of global citizenship that is less about politics and economics and more about the human spirit?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but I will keep thinking about them. Like the frog in Umdhlubu’s story, I am searching for a way home. In my case, the journey leads me through the maze of competing schools of thought and across warring professional turfs. Still, I also believe that ordinary experience will lead me to greater understanding.

1 As a 2004 Campus Compact Faculty Fellow, I co-authored a paper to introduce the conceptual model for supporting the continued development of service-learning as a pedagogy of engagement. A logic diagram was used, among other goals, to illustrate potential tensions within the field that merit ongoing discussion amongst those committed to the continued development of service-learning in higher education. The article, entitled A Logic Model of Service-Learning: Tensions and Issues for Further Consideration appears in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning (Spring 2006, pp. 47-60). back

2 For an excellent review of Dr. Ramos’ thinking, see a recent article by Curtis Ventriss and Gaylord Candler entitled, Albert Guerreiro Ramos, 20 Years Later: A New Science Still Unrealized in an Era of Public Cynicism and Theoretical Ambivalence. The article is in the May/June 2005 issue of the journal Public Administration Review. back

3 Some have said that this is a false debate because this cultural practice, like so many others, cannot be interpreted dichotomously. It is a complex practice that has changed, is changing, will continue to change as social realities respond to the encroaching western influence. The periodical publication Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity (a project of the Agenda Feminist Media Company, Rm. E320 Diakonia Centre, 20 Diakonia Avenue, Durban, 4001 South Africa) regularly features articles addressing the traditional-modern clash in the nations of Africa. Janet Hinson Shope’s article entitled, Lobola Is Here to Stay: Rural Black Women and the Contradictory Meanings of labola in Post-Apartheid South Africa is one such writing. back

4 Richard Kiely. (2004). A Chameleon with a Complex: Searching for Transformation in International Service-Learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Spring, 5-20. back

5 Linda Tuhiwai White presents an inspirational and humbling analysis of how well-intentioned social science has intruded upon Australian Aboriginal peoples. Her book is entitled Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. back

6 The KwaSizabantu region is in the eastern cape region of South Africa. The Kwasizabantu Mission was established in the 1960s and has since grown from one building on an acre of land to a booming complex on 700 acres. The mission’s services and rituals are ecumenical, with equal attention being devoted to the individual’s creature needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Its farms make the mission self-sufficient while its contracts for bottled water, dairy products, fresh produce, and baked goods are income-generating. The mission has recently opened an AIDS clinic for women and plans a similar facility for men in the near future. back

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