Is “globalism” a threat to the South, that special place where we live? Is it stealing our jobs and homogenizing our culture? Or, is it transforming the South for the better, raising our income levels, and bringing us a healthy diversity?
UNC Chapel Hill anthropology professor James Peacock looks for answers to these questions in his new book, “Grounded Globalism: How the U.S. South Embraces the World.”
In short, he asserts that the South, because of its history and culture, can respond to the challenges of increasing global interconnectivity more positively and successfully than other regions of the U.S.
To understand how he comes to this conclusion, we have to understand what the word “globalism” means. “Globalism” and a related word, “globalization,” deal with the degree of the world’s interconnectivity. In Thomas Friedman’s framework they relate to the extent to which “The World is Flat.” But these are fairly new terms-- still not found in some dictionaries. Also, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. So, there are differences of opinion and some confusion about the terms’ meanings.
Peacock says “globalization” is a process “moving toward worldwide connectivity.”
“Globalism,” he says, “is a perspective emphasizing, perhaps favoring, global connections.”
Peacock acknowledges that the South is a special, even a peculiar, part of the U.S. In fact, having grown up in the Deep South, he shares the outspoken regional pride of many Southerners. "The South is a place; the north is just a direction," he says, repeating a quote from Roy Blount Jr.
Acknowledging that the South has seen itself as separate from, and even in opposition to, the rest of the country, he maintains that the region and its people may be well equipped to accommodate the accelerating pace of globalization.
"Of all the Americans, the Southerner is the most at home in the world,” Peacock quotes the late James McBride Dabbs, “Or at least in the South, which, because of its very at-homeness, he is apt to confuse with the world.”
This comfort level, Peacock explains, extends beyond a Southerner’s immediate surroundings. So a Southerner is likely to be comfortably wherever he or she is, wherever in the world.
Peacock reminds his readers that globalism is not simply a new feature of Southern life. From colonial times until the Civil War, the South was “international.” Most of its people were immigrants from Europe and Africa. Its international trading partners helped make its thriving ports centers of culture that were more that simply Southern.
After the Civil War, the South earned a reputation as inward looking, backward in dealing with its dual racial situation, and resistant to all changes, not just those forced from “outsiders.”
The increased pace of globalization has opened the door for change, and, in some cases forced important transformations. New waves of immigrants from Latin America and Asia have moved us from “dualism” in race (black-white) to pluralism (black-white-Latino-Asian-etc.)
As Southerners find themselves more and more connected to the world, their opposition to and defensiveness about other U.S. regions melts away. When they focus on integrating into a world system, they do not think so much about how bad the North is.
Even the Southerners’ special sense of place (“that is tied to the defense of territories and the affirmation of manhood, womanhood, and family values”) changes. In response to global pressures, the Southerners’ places become “force fields” like the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
But even as global forces transform the South, some of its special nature holds on and transforms the globalism.
“Globalism is grounded,” writes Peacock, “even as it transforms that ground.”
Peacock says he was led to write the book as he noticed “what is happening around me.” He fills his book with personal observations about his home region to illustrate the paradigm shift our region is experiencing—and the implications.
His wonderful stories of real Southerners entertain his readers while they help him explain his concept of “grounded globalism.” In the same book, Peacock gives authoritative comfort for those of us who hope that the South can accommodate itself to a globalized world and, at the same time, hold on to the best of the traditions that make it special.
— D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/. Check his blog and view prior programs at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/