This past Wednesday I had the privilege of meeting with the highly regarded (and evidently highly feared?) Dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship and International Studies professor, Mr. Ahmed I. Samatar. He had a lil chat with all of us Live It! grant recipients about globalization, global citizenship, cosmopolitanism, and “zones of dialectical tension” (more on this later).
One of the points he brought up during his discussion about the history of globalization was how the development of capitalism during the modern era also led to the onset of the “commodification of life.” I think this was a very powerful statement that is particularly resonant today, especially given the current age of “hyper-modernity” (as Samatar would say) that we live in. The planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems have been reduced down to exploitable “natural resources,” ideas are converted to “intellectual property rights” that must be bought or sold, and our worth as human beings is only relevant in terms of the “human capital” we have to offer to the economy. This last point is especially relevant to the working-classes of the United States, and the “commodification of life” is very applicable to the reality of migrant farm workers. They are only valued in terms of their labor, and their status as human beings is practically ignored. This is why the humane treatment of seasonal agricultural workers (such as livable wages, health benefits, and heaven-forbid the right to water/bathroom breaks) is so uncommon.
This dilemma hits on one of the “four zones of dialectical tension” that Samatar talked about during his…talk. Anywho, he described how there are four main zones of tension in which global struggles/conflicts can be categorized: War & Peace, Humans & Nature, Equality & Quality, and Diversity/Multi-Culturalism & Universalism/Commonality. During the discussion, Samatar asked us to see which of the four categories our “Live It!” projects would fit under. I believe that my project with the United Farm Workers relates to the Equality and Quality “zone of dialectical tension,” or (as Samatar also described) the tension between economic justice and competitiveness/individual freedom. This is because the pursuit of economic justice on behalf of migrant farm workers comes into direct confrontation with the desires of grape growing companies to remain competitive. I am very interested to see how this tension is made manifest in the migrant farm workers’ daily lives.
Finally, Samatar talked about global citizenship and cosmopolitanism. He defined cosmopolitanism as embodying two aspects: 1) the ethic that all human beings belong to the same moral realm and we have an obligation to each other across this realm, and 2) the objective perspective of “global citizens” which allows us to have a critical stance toward state systems/society. I think both of these aspects are pretty important for many of us Macalester students, who not only see ourselves as “global citizens” with an obligation to help others in need throughout the world, but also like to devote a lot of time to bitching about “the system” (no worries man, myself included!). Samatar also talked about global citizenship in relation to global governance and international decision-making institutions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m down with big international organizations that do good work and stuff, but I believe more emphasis should be given to how cosmopolitan ways of thinking can be acted upon in local contexts. Global thought does not necessarily denote globally-scaled actions. Cosmopolitan visions can be acted upon at a variety of levels (communities, cities, states) and in a variety of contexts (NGO work, volunteering, career choices). Basically, global citizenship is for everyone and how we choose to “Live it” out is up to us!