The era of Nationalism — Localizing concerns over Globalization

Relative interest over time on Google Search for the term “globalization” in red and “nationalism” in blue, from Jan 2004 to present in the United States. Source: Google Trends,globalization (Note: Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular)

Public interest and literature regarding globalization exploded in the late 90’s (Giddens). The world has become more interconnected than ever before. Movements of goods, practices, people, and ideas are enabled by technological breakthroughs in transportation, communication. Moreover, increasing economic interdependence, emergent global problems too big for any single country to solve, and rising power of non-governmental entities have led early globalization scholars to predictions of a new world order where physical and symbolic national boundaries are rendered blurry, even irrelevant.

Yet those early predictions have been refuted by the recent rise of nationalism, most notably in so-called Western countries. Nationalist sentiments are not individual impulses without consequences. These sentiments have turned into political actions and translated to violence against targeted groups. Nationalist movements and parties demand isolationist and conservative policies, such as withdrawal from global trade deals and international commitments, restriction on immigration and even unjustified deportation, etc. In everyday social remediation, violent groups and individuals have inflicted hate crimes on racial, ethnic, religious, sexual-orientation minorities as an expression of nationalism.

How do we understand the gap between the logical predictions from early globalization scholars and the reality we are experiencing today? This question was the starting point of this research project, sparking my interests for further investigation. Through preliminary research, data collection, and discussions with people both in and outside of sociology, I came up with a set of guiding questions for writing this essay: What is the relationship between globalization and nationalism? How do global processes and discourses take on local and national meanings that invoke nationalist sentiments and hence mobilize nationalist political actions? What are the nuances and varieties in this translation or meaning-making process when we look at agents, motivation, and expression? What are the implications of this new understanding?

I acknowledge that each of these questions is complex and controversial on its own, deserving a separate thesis. For the scope of this essay — an undergraduate research exploring a broad, abstract, complex, and controversial topic within limited time, I feel strongly that inadequately addressing an important question is still better than leaving it out altogether. I also acknowledge my lack of first-person connection, lived experience, or ethnographic field research in the countries that I discuss in this essay.

Given the research questions and constraints listed above, I engaged in literature review of scholarly research on the topics of nationalism, globalization, right-wing populist politics, and white working class. This body of research comes from mostly sociology and political science, with diverse research methods, from theoretical questioning, statistical quantitative analysis, media study, to ethnography. I iteratively selected quotes from these research projects and updated the analytical frame as my research progressed.

The first part of this essay introduces the context, terminologies, definitions and establishes the theoretical foundation to investigate the relationship between globalization and nationalism. The second part presents four case studies in four different regions in the world, where nationalist political movements or rhetoric are prevalent in discourses on global phenomena and concepts: (1) Anti-immigrants, -refugees, and -Islam in the United States, (2) Anti-EU, immigrants in the United Kingdom, (3) push back against international human rights regarding homosexuality in Nigeria, Malawi, and Nigeria, (4) support for foreign workers’ rights in South Korea. The third part is a summary of newly gained insights from the research.

I conclude that to understand the rise of nationalism in an increasingly interconnected world, we must examine how global phenomena and concepts create national, local and personal consequences. In other words, globalization finds local expression. Global phenomena and concepts such as immigration, supranational government, international human rights, cosmopolitanism, etc. may transform neighborhood landscapes, challenge previously dominant cultural and governmental practices, as well as redistribute resources and opportunities among social groups. Globalization, in this context, is best understood as an experience. For individuals to understand their “globalization experience,” they must subject their own perception (real or imagined) of consequences of globalization under local lenses of meaning-making, articulation, and political framework. This “localizing” process depends on the historical, socio-political economic contexts of the region, nation, and individual.

By this conclusion, I argue against the oppositional dichotomy of globalization and nationalism, in support of a nuanced, bidirectional relationship between the two concepts.

Understanding globalization and nationalism

Can we envisage a time, not only when ethnic nationalism has run its course, but when nation-states, national identities and nationalism-in-general will have been superseded by a cosmopolitan culture and supranational governance?

Taken from the chapter “Nationalism and Globalization” by Anthony D. Smith, this question represents the mainstream discourse regarding these two concepts. Scholarship mostly views nations and nationalism as elements of modernity and globalization as a recent process that challenges the nation states (Roudometof). In fact, Anthony Smith titled his book — Nationalism and Modernism.

It is true that state, nation, national identity, and nationalism are modernist concepts that emerged in Europe during the 18th century, symbolically marked by the French Revolution. A state is a polity that claims sovereignty and authority over a territory. Scholarship and theoretical understanding of statehood trace back to the early texts of social contract theory, such as Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes and Two Treatises of Government by John Locke. A state, therefore, is best understood as a governing model to distribute power and mediate interactions within a society.

On the other hand, a nation is a social group, made of people who see themselves as a cohesive and coherent unit based on shared cultural or historical criteria, socially constructed and not given by nature. Criteria for membership of a nation may vary across space and time. But universally, the feeling of sameness and connection among members of a nation is based on symbols. These symbols can be physical objects, rituals, practices, or ideologies. An example of separation between a state and a nation is Israel and the Jewish diaspora. While the state of Israel only declared legitimacy in 1948, the sentiments of nationhood among Jews preceded far before then, and are dispersed beyond Israel’s currently disputed territory. Personal identification with a nation is called national identity.

While the definitions of state and nation are quite distinct, they are often used interchangeably. This common conflation is due to the ideal that a nation should be governed by its own state, and by the same token, a state should only exercise power over a group of people with the same national identification. Nationalism is the political principle that expresses that ideal. It puts cultural congruence as the foundation of a state and calls for exclusion of outsiders of a nation. Like any -ism, nationalism is also an ideology that connects to some set of beliefs rooted in superiority and domination.

Unlike nationalism, globalization does not trace back to an identifiable time period. It also does not have a neatly packaged definition. Anthony Giddens describes globalization as a “complex set of processes”, that is simultaneously “political, technological and cultural, as well as economic.” (Giddens, 2). Amartya Sen agrees with Giddens, pointing out that globalization expands across all areas of social lives, including “travel, trade, migration, spread of cultural influences, and dissemination of knowledge and understanding (including that of science and technology)”. Deduced from Sen’s perspective, globalization can be generally understood as the dispersion and movement of people, goods, practices, and ideas.

But globalization does not just mobilize what already exists, it also creates new institutions, goods, practices, ideas, and arguably, people. Globalization is not only external. Consequences of globalization are interpreted through the lens of individuals who are faced with its impacts in their everyday lives. From this perspective, globalization is intimately felt, negotiated, and experienced.

Framing globalization as an experience gives us a starting point to understand why nationalist sentiments and political actions are possible responses to the consequences resulting from global phenomena as well as why these responses are variable. Immigration, global trade, multinational organizations, international human rights, cultural dispersion and diffusion, and global terrorism create different experiences for people depending on their social positions. The ways in which people interpret and give meaning to these experiences depend largely on their identity, including national identity.

World history in the past 150 years has revolved around nations. The struggle over power and global market among nations in Europe at the turn of the 19th century resulted in the First World War. A few decades later, the most extreme form of nationalism — fascism — motivated the Second World War, also the bloodiest war in human history. Shortly after, international affairs entered co-currently the Cold War era and the era of worldwide decolonization. Yet again, we see from the Cold War how remarkably powerful the idea of protecting national ideologies and domination can be in shaping the course of history. On the other hand, where nations had not existed, declaring nation-statehood was an essential part in the decolonization project across the world. Post-Cold War era, the U.S. declared the War on Terrorism, on the grounds of protecting the American way of life against Islam. National membership, scope, representation, and struggle over power continue to dominate conversations in international affairs.

The preeminence of nationhood in recent history has fostered among citizens not only attachment to their own nation-state but also the sense that their own fortunes are closely linked to the nation-state’s fortunes. This understanding is so pervasive, that it is unlikely to change in the short-term future, in contrary to predictions from scholars such as Anthony Smith. Political columnist Paul Pillar goes so far as claiming we are living in the era of nationalism. The strong identification with the nation-state provides the lense through which individuals understand their globalization experience.

Localizing concerns over globalization

This section presents four case studies from four different regions of the world — the United States, the United Kingdom, Nigeria-Uganda-Malawi, and South Korea. In each case, I analyze the “localization process” that gives meaning to specific global phenomena in that region. How does this process connect to nationalist rhetoric or political movements? What nuance does case study contribute to the understanding of the relationship between globalization and nationalism? The guiding questions are the same for all cases: What are the changes resulting from globalization that people experience? How do these changes connect to globalization? What is the history of nationalism in this country/region? How does the current socio-political context connect to nationalism? How do people connect their globalization experience to nationalism? What are the nationalist political actions that were mobilized? How is this case different from the other cases? What nuance in understanding did we gain? Does it support or challenge the thesis statement?

In the U.S. presidential election 2016, Donald Trump ran a successful nationalist campaign, one that used,

…a particular vision of the nation that emphasizes the superiority of the American people, the moral corruption of the elites, and dire threats posed by immigrants and ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, all while drawing a sharp distinction between the primordial nation and its political institutions” (Bonikowski and DiMaggio)

Trump’s campaign garnered massive following from a largely white voter base, with the white working class as the most fervent group of supporters. These electorates praised Donald Trump for his message “Make America Great Again”, his promise to “put America first” and his commitment to push back globalization.

In particular, these voters advocated for anti-global trade policies, such as political sanctions against China — the biggest trade partner of the U.S., and withdrawal from NAFTA and the TPP, which was in negotiation during the presidential race. They also strongly agree with Trump on anti-immigration policies, including border reinforcement and deportation. All these “anti-globalization” policy proposals are justified by nationalist rhetoric — one of national restoration and exceptionalism. On the campaign trail, Trump praised other illiberal, nationalist leaders, including the adversarial President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and the far right President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who were both strongly criticized by establishment politicians. Trump ultimately won the primary election against Hillary Clinton, who was heavily criticized for her globalist views and international affairs experience. How did nationalism become the political basis for supporters of Trump, especially among white working class Americans?

In 2016, Justin Gest published a timely book titled — The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality, which offers ethnographic insights into the lived experience of white working class people in the U.S and the U.K. He mapped out the recent socio-political economic transformation that has marginalized the white working class. Gest argues, these people view globalization as a zero-sum game, where immigrants, minorities, and elite whites are the winners and the white working class, losers.

Western countries’ reorientation toward more service-oriented, high technology, globalized economies since the Second World War required the outsourcing of light manufacturing and basic services to developing nations with minimal labor standards. This economic transformation undermined the social and political strength of white working class communities by diminishing their ranks, loosening associational life, and jettisoning state-sponsored welfare support systems which had been in place in the post-war era. (Gest, 2)

The globalized economy has taken away well-paying blue collar jobs in former industrial towns. According to statistics presented by Gest, in 1940 in the United States, 74% of employed workers were white and did not hold professional or managerial jobs. By 2006, that percentage plummeted to 43% (Abramowitz and Teixeira 2009: 394–395). Members of the white working class with inadequate training and lack of opportunities for the new economy, “are commonly understood as the dispersed, unorganized holdouts of an earlier era without access to the benefits of a globalized economy.” (Gest, 2).

Despite economic changes in the country, the remnants of the industrial era in the neighborhood of white working class people remind them of the past “golden days”. Gest calls these former industrial towns the “post-traumatic cities”, where,

residents maneuver around the crumbling, rusty relics of industrialism much like the way today’s Greeks and Italians maneuver around the roped-off ruins of Ancient Athens and Rome. They simultaneously taunt inhabitants with memories of better days, and render false hope that they are one big break from returning to glory. (Gest, 11)

To the white working class, the postindustrial white middle class, upwardly mobile non-whites and immigrants are leaving them behind, while stigmatizing them based on meritocracy and vilifying them as, “antagonists clinging to the unfair advantages of an earlier time, resistant to progressive change in order to maintain power over ethnocultural minorities” (Gest, 3). Although racial, ethnic, and gender backgrounds are important in shaping a person’s given resources and life opportunities, “it is the social class into which one is born that is still the most determinant” (National Equality Panel 2010). This rings true especially for a neoliberal capitalist society such as the United States, where economic mobility is among the least likely out of the OECD countries (OECD 2010; Corak 2013).

The white working class does not only experience economic stagnation, but also a shrinking representation. Immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and other parts of the world continue to diversify the U.S. population. The non-white population represented 37% of the U.S. population in 2015. In 2016, the majority of newborn babies are non-white.

Whether white people’s working class status is defined according to education-, occupation-, or income-based standards, a 30% to 50% decline in the relative size of this group from the World War II era to today in the United States has transpired (Abramowitz and Teixeira 2009: 395). Recent research (Case and Deaton 2015) suggests that these trends may be intensified by an extraordinary 22% rise in mortality rate of white working class people since 1999 — which has taken place in an era during which the death rates among all other groups declined. (Gest, 6)

Although the white working class is shrinking in size, it still represents a significant portion of electorates, especially in swing states. This subset of the American voters can greatly affect electoral outcomes, “but nevertheless remains misunderstood and undermobilized” (Gest, 7).

Admittedly, the main economic and social forces that drive the marginalization of the white working class is driven by globalization. But anti-globalization does not conflate with conservative nationalism. In the early 2000’s, anti-globalization protests in the U.S. were led by mostly (middle-class, elite) liberals who were concerned with unequal distribution of benefits from global trade, U.S. military involvement overseas, and modern day imperialism. To express their concerns for consequences resulting from globalization, the early anti-globalization liberal protestors used the frame of justice, equity, and human rights.

What frame is available for white working class people to legitimately express their concerns for the domestic, local, and personal impacts of globalization in their lived experience? According to Gest, the options for legitimate expression are limited for this group:

…should they complain about the promotion of ethnic minorities at their expense, they are labeled racists. Should they blame an economic model featuring expanding inequality and increasingly unstable employment, they are deemed to be lazy (Gest, 16)

Therefore, the politics of class and race struggle must be fought indirectly, in coded terms, packaged in nationalism.

The scholarly literature on nationalism in the U.S. identifies three main categories as the primary bases for constructing national identity. They are (1) ethno-cultural, which asserts the continued dominance of whiteness and Christianity in U.S., (2) civic, or pride in the republican tradition that focuses on community governance, collective rights and obligations, (3) ideological, which is emphasis on the liberal ideals of universal rights and individualism. The white working class has the highest level of identification with all three variations of nationalism listed above (Bonikowski and DiMaggio).

Through quantitative analysis of the data collected from the General Social Survey (GSS) in 2004, with questions to measure identification with different aspects of nationalism, Bonikowski and DiMaggio found a correlation between specific expression of nationalist sentiments and demographic characteristics. 24% of the respondents to the survey are classified as ardent nationalists, which means they have high national identification in all aspects: (1) national identification, or feelings of closeness to the nation, (2) restrictive criteria for national membership, or criteria which make someone truly American, (3) national pride in history, technology, government institutions, and (4) hubris, or the belief that the U.S. is superior to other countries and blind devotion to the country. Typical members of the ardent nationalist class can be best characterized as, “a white male observant Evangelical or Mainline Protestant with relatively little formal education, living in the South” (Bonikowski and DiMaggio).

The research mentioned above also tests correlation between classification of nationalist identification and views on globalization-related policies. Bonikowski and DiMaggio found that ardent nationalists, along with restrictive nationalists (who are similar to ardent nationalists but with low level of national pride) are more likely to express negative attitudes toward immigrants than the other groups (disengaged and creedal nationalists). They believe that immigrants increase crime rates and take jobs away from Americans and disagree that immigration is helpful to economy and that immigrants improve society by bringing in new ideas and cultures. Therefore they generally think that there is too much government spending on immigration. These two groups are also more likely to express protectionist and isolationist views on territorial borders. Ardent nationalists are significantly more likely to endorse the position that the U.S. should follow its own interests at all costs.

Statistical findings from Bonikowski and DiMaggio establish the connection among demographic characteristics, nationalist identification, and political expression. On the other hand, qualitative and ethnographic work from Michael Kimmel presented in Angry White Men (2013) provides insights into how the white working class adopts these nationalist sentiments. According to Kimmel, the white working class views themselves and their ancestors as the main builders of the United States. It was blue collar white men that constructed public infrastructure, manufacturing plants, farms, and the supporting system for the American government. They argue that white men are true and rightful owners of the country; they fought in wars and live out the American values of hardwork and religious faith. Both Kimmel and Gest argue that to understand the political motivation of the marginalized white working class, we must first understand the the gap between their expectation or sense of entitlement and their perception of reality.

Given the limitation for legitimate expressions of anti-globalization concerns, as well as the ready rhetoric of nationalism which resonates with white supremacy and based on exclusion, white working class people resort to nationalist rhetoric to push back against the consequences of globalization. In particular, they often seek, “to restrict immigrants’ access to welfare, abolish affirmative action policies, and receive priority in public housing” (Gest, 11). Anxiety over competition of government assistance and domestic economic resources due to immigration, grievances over lost job security, and cultural domination, through this lense, became an issue of nation defining and protection.

When globalization is understood as a zero-sum game, any social advantage for immigrants, minorities, or upwardly mobilized whites, will be at the expense of white working class. Conspired with the neoliberal, global capitalist government that left out the voices and concerns of the poor, a sense of misunderstanding and stigmatization from the urban, cosmopolitan class felt by the white working class, nationalism is the perfect political frame for this group to legitimately express their concerns stemming from the globalization experience that is stratified along racial, class, and national lines.

Applying this frame, anti-global trade is understood as “giving back American citizens what they rightfully deserves”, “strengthening the national economy”, or “breaking out of economic interdependence”. As white working class people often depend on social programs themselves, they consequently “perceive ethnic minorities as exploitative of welfare and vote to reduce its scope” (Gest, 16). But concerns over competition of government assistance can only find legitimate expression in the rhetoric of guarding the nation against “the weak links”, or preserving national cultural identity.

Fear of losing ethno-cultural domination can be best described through the rhetoric of the Alt-Right, a right-wing extremist group that has gained political momentum and legitimacy after the election of Donald Trump. Andrew Anglin, a key blogger of the Alt-Right movement wrote in his post “A Normie’s Guide to the Alt-Right” on The Daily Stormer:

“The core concept of the movement, upon which all else is based, is that Whites are undergoing an extermination, via mass immigration into White countries which was enabled by a corrosive liberal ideology of White self-hatred, and that the Jews are at the center of this agenda”

We find similar rhetoric from Richard Spencer, the de facto representative of the movement. He published on his online blog, Radix Journal (with the domain, three articles under the section “The Red Pill — Read This First”, all of which are about the vision of a white ethno-state. The first article frames race as an essential part of constructing national identity and success. The second article argues that the Founding Fathers’ ideal of the United States was, “a nation of people with common [European] values, culture, and heritage.” The last article condemns the incompetence of mainstream conservatism in preserving the country’s “identity as a European and Anglo-Saxon nation-state”.

To members of the Alt-Right, immigration is the proxy for a race war. They construct people of color as threats to white people, “white culture”, and the national success of the U.S. In a speech titled “Facing the Future as a Minority”, Richard Spencer claims:

When we hear any professional “Latino” support this or that social program, we sense in our guts that her policy prescriptions are rationalizations for nationalism. She might say “more immigration is good”; she means “The Anglos are finished! […] And when White men talk about “restoring the Constitution” — or, more so, “Taking Our Country Back” — leftists and non-Whites are right to view this as threatening and racialist: it implies a return to origins and that the White man once owned America.

Consequently, the only resolution to protect the U.S. national identity according to Richard Spencer is a white ethno-state, a kind of “white zionist” country.

In summary, I established in this section that globalization has profound impacts on the white working class in the United States, in economic, political, and social terms. They perceive their marginalization is largely due to global trade and immigration and hence want to push back on globalization. The options for legitimate expressions of these anti-globalization demands are restricted, due to the moral stigma associated with white working class. The history of nationalism in the U.S., the understanding of U.S. national identity shared among the white working class, and a ready rhetoric allows the white working class to legitimately voice their concerns while avoiding potential stigmas. This analysis supports the thesis that globalization finds local expressions, and the process that involves meaning-making and articulation of the globalization experience is dependent on particular historical and social contexts.

A few months before the 45th presidential election in the United States, the United Kingdom held a referendum to decide its membership in the European Union, which resulted in a win for the “Leave” party. This decision to leave the European Union, also known as Brexit, “came in large part as the result of fears — of violence, of displacement, of disenfranchisement at the hands of newcomers” (Anderson-Nathe, Gharabaghi, 2016). Concurrent with Brexit is the rise of far right political parties such as the British National Party (BNP). The following section analyzes Justin Gest’s report on the social reality and local politics in the Barking and Dagenham boroughs in East London. Concerns about local demographic transformations have led white working class residents of the borough to support fascist, nationalist political parties such as the BNP.

Barking and Dagenham were both prosperous industrial towns in the 1920’s and 30’s, with the Barking Power House electric station established in 1925 and the Ford Motor Company and factory built in 1931 on Dagenham’s waterfront. But from the late 1970s, industrial jobs move offshore and unions weakened, and the economy has been stagnant ever since. Some newcomers moved in to take advantage of cheap real estate; but contributing more to the resentment of white working class residents, is the fact that,

many new immigrants were assigned to public housing in council-owned row houses and tower blocks. There were sub-Saharan Africans, Lithuanians, Bosnians, Poles, and South Asian Muslims in each of the borough’s wards. By the 2000s, these immigrant groups composed about half the population of East London, as an extension of London’s globalizing metropolis. (Gest, 10:11)

Similar to their counterparts in the U.S., white working class people in East London were concerned about the demographic transformation of their neighborhood. The growing presence of immigrants fostered among white working class people, “an emerging sense of displacement and disempowerment” (Gest, 21).

For residents of East London, globalization is a pervasive experience. In the previously dominantly white, culturally homogeneous neighborhoods, there seems to be little trace of the English culture that white residents reminisce. Gest vividly captures this landscape:

The smells of exotic foods pervaded hallways, unfamiliar music was amplified through nearby windows, and foreign languages were spoken on buses. Corresponding to different demands, import grocers opened on local high streets, neighborhood pubs closed, and empty commercial spaces were renovated to create makeshift mosques and other houses of worship (Gest, 44).

This cultural estrangement has caused serious strain on the social lives of white working class people here. They criticize immigrants, most of whom are from African countries, for lack of efforts to assimilate to the English culture. The increasing presence of different cultures poses a challenge not only to white working class residents’ lifestyle, but also to their expectation of cultural boundaries being neatly aligned with geographical borders. For whites in East London, the push back globalization is to preserve cultural homogeneity and an old way of life.

White residents went to their local political representatives to express their concerns over cultural integration, but were met with dismissal. This is due to the complicated political aspiration of the central-left Labour Party, which has always struggled, “to walk the line between maintaining the loyalty of white working class unionists without estranging Britain’s many ethno-religious groups, who represent the party’s future growth” (Gest, 54).

Many working white class electorates feel left out by political elites from the two main parties. During the time of of Labour Party control from 1996 to 2010, “little attention was paid to the plight of the white working class — the party’s one-time base — and the United Kingdom’s inequality gap expanded” (Gest, 29). On the other hand, the Conservative party has always sided with the elites and recently coalesced with the Liberal Democrats, “who have a mixed relationship with poor whites anyway, given the party’s view on European integration and immigration” (Gest, 29). There is a strong sense of distrust for mainstream, establishment politicians among electorates, who seemingly have diverted their attention to immigrants rather than to “true British”.

As a result, they look to political fringe groups in search for more interest-specific political expression. The white working classes are increasingly rallying behind The British National Party or BNP, which runs on a right-wing nationalist platform. The BNP presents Muslims as aggressive, aloof, and threatening to Britain. The party calls for anti-immigration legislations and deportation, in order to restore the more glorious days of the country. In the diverse boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, the BNP won over 20% of the Council chamber in 2006, but then lost all of their seats in 2010.

‘I voted BNP’, says a citizen with a mix of pride and guilt. ‘I can’t help it. They call them Nazis, but they’re not. They’re Britain for Britain. Labour sent [immigrants] all down here and won’t tell me where they come from. I think they fiddled with the votes, so that the BNP did not get one candidate in’. She continued, ‘Barking and Dagenham has always been white working class […] What did my grandparents work for? An Asian woman told me that I’m a racist. So I said, ‘Well, you made me one.’ (Gest, 54)

From this remark, demands for anti-globalization policies such as restriction against immigration seem to go hand-in-hand with criticism for establishment politicians, who are considered to be disconnected, incapable, and corrupted. The remark also shows the clash between expectation, a sense of entitlement, and perception of reality, which was discussed in the previous section on the U.S. (as evident in the question, “What did my grandparents work for?”).

Unlike the woman mentioned above, most interviewees from the research of Gest did not reclaim the term “racist”. In fact, 32 out of 40 respondents, “preface many fervent statements by first clarifying that they are not racist or prejudiced.” Gest believes this need to avoid the label racist shows the understanding that such label will disqualify the respondents’ legitimate concerns as coming from prejudice and intolerance. This anxiety amplifies the appeal for nationalism as the form of expression for anti-globalization concerns. It provides symbolic distance from the stigmas of racism and cultural incompetency, which have silenced the voice of white working class people in mainstream political debates.

In summary, this section looks at how globalization, particularly immigration, has changed local landscapes. Challenges in cultural integration cause social strains that could be mobilized into political actions. Demands for anti-globalization policies such as restriction against immigration seem to go hand-in-hand with criticism for establishment politicians, who are considered to be disconnected, incapable, and corrupted. Accusations of racism and cultural incompetency are interpreted as a way to invalidate legitimate concerns of white working class people.

The rise of nationalism in the U.S. and the U.K. in previous discussion comes from the grass-root level, where citizens subject their own perception of globalized reality under local lenses of meaning-making, articulation, and political framework. However, this section shows how political elites can proactively frame global phenomena to generate local understanding that helps fulfill their own political agenda. In this situation, the governments of Uganda, Nigeria, and Malawi face demands from international organizations to remove anti-homosexuality policies based on human rights concerns. These political elites construct such interventions as part of Western imperialism, the more benign, modern day version of colonialism. Political authority of Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda all point to homosexuality in Western countries as a state-weakening force, while borrowing anti-homosexuality rhetoric from Western religious groups.

All three countries were previously colonized, and are religiously Christian. Legislations to penalize same-sex sexual relationships only emerged in political discourse in these countries in the late 1990s. Some more recent anti-homosexuality policies from these countries include, (1) the Anti-homosexual Bill in 2009 in Uganda, which extended the punishment for aggravated homosexuality (repeated offender, offenders who are HIV positive, authority figure, sexual engagement with minors or people with disabilities) up to death penalty. In 2013, the most severe punishment was reduced to life imprisonment; (2) In Nigeria, the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill was passed, which criminalized all kinds of same-sex relationships, even nonsexual, such as participation in gay-affiliated groups; (3) Malawi quietly packaged in a legislative amendment titled the Section 46 Penal Code Amendment Bill. Prohibition of news media and other material deemed “contrary to the public interest” and the expansion of penal code to explicitly identify sex between women, not just men, as a criminal offense punishable by five years in prison (McKay, Angotti 402:403).

In response to these policies, international organizations put political and economic pressure on Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi through withholding development aid. Nonetheless, governments of these three countries continued to pursue anti-homosexuality policies in order to assert state control, and sabotage the political aspiration of progressive candidates. At the same time, political elites must use local, cultural logics to shape public understanding of this globalized concept of international human rights.

For example, the Nigerian government voiced support for the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill in mid-2006, using the rhetoric of pushing back against Western domination:

We cannot allow ourselves to enslaved by the emerging universal culter. Westernization cannot be our sole yardstick for measuring progress in fashion and music and entertainment… the reason for banning same-sex marriage in Nigeria is to preserve our value system (McKay, Angotti 406).

Pursuit of anti-homosexuality policies are framed as a symbolic action to protect cultural sovereignty, and hence, national identity. The argument that homosexuality is unnatural and sinful is frequently packaged with arguments about “cultural, racial, and national identity, where homosexuality is conceived […] as unAfrican and not reflective of the rich culture and tradition of […] varied ethnic and religious groups” (McKay, Angotti 407). Since homosexuality is linked to “white culture”, it is also unAfrican and even anti-African. By the same token, anti-homosexuality is nation-strengthening and nation-defining.

Resistance to international human rights requests from the West regarding anti- homosexuality legislations is understood as a sign of national determination and dignity, given that Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi all receive foreign development aid. In Nigeria,

…government officials rejected Western demands to withdraw the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill, stating that the proposed law reflected the values of Nigerians and if there is any country that does not want to give us aid or assistance just because we want to hold on to our values, that country can keep her aid and assistance (Bello 2011).

In this context, international aid is considered to be another tool of Western imperialism, given based on the preconditions of cultural conformity and national identity compromise. Political elites also use the language of democracy and sovereignty to criticize Western interference with African affairs.

In response to the US Senate’s resolution demanding that Ugandan Members of Parliament drop the death penalty provision from the bill, Bahati replied: “It is a pity that people who should be defenders of democracy are trying to interfere in a democratic process” (Gyezaho 2010).

Hence, ideas about international rights are not traveling in one direction from Western countries, but are also problematized and reframed on a local level. At the same time, sexuality became part of transnational and international processes, as well as a site of international political discourse and power negotiation.

In all three cases examined above, nationalism is the rhetorical and ideological frame for conservative, anti-globalization demands. However, nationalist sentiments can also foster legitimacy for liberal, progressive policies that aspire to cosmopolitanism and global integration. South Korea is a nation with a strong belief in ethnic and cultural homogeneity. South Korea used to be a country with restrictive, inflexible policies for migrant workers, but recently has passed progressive legislations to protect migrant workers and assist their families in the past two decades. Seo-Hyun Park investigates what has led to this change and draws an unlikely conclusion. She argues that greater acceptance of foreign workers is a result of successful political and nationalist framing of immigration as a global human rights issue, which resonates with South Korean yearning for meeting global standards of human rights and becoming an “advanced” nation.

Prior to nationalist framing, South Korean citizens and law-makers did not see the relevance of protecting migrant workers. Policies for this population were understood through the lense of, “the dual labor structure between indigenous workers and foreign migrant workers, who shun and engage in ‘3D’ (dirty, difficult, dangerous) labor, respectively.” Two key changes led to the new attitude. One is the identification of migrant workers’ issues as international human rights concerns. The other is “the generally shared sensitivity to global standards and a concern with status” (Park) in the public consciousness.

The form of nationalism in South Korea is different the U.S., U.K., or Uganda, Nigeria, and Malawi. The nationalist sentiment in South Korea places emphasis on external status, or how others might view the nation. Basing their national pride in national economy and military capacity, Koreans want to see their country as a, “rich nation, strong army” (buguk gangbyeong) (Park, 386). Under the frame of nation strengthening and yearning for modernity or the status of an “advanced nation”, progressive legislations for migrant workers quickly transformed the power and status of these people: they now have the right to vote in local elections, get government assistance for their families, etc.

The case of progressive policies in South Korea challenges the conceptual frameworks that pit pro-immigration pursuits against mainstream nationalism. Nuances in the forms and expressions of nationalism can enable progressive politics and global integration. And to circle back to the thesis, abstract global concepts such as politics of immigration and citizenship must be situated in specific domestic and regional political-historical context and explained by local cultural logic.


Since the turn of the millennium, the topic of globalization has been extensively researched and debated, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected. At the same time, the rise of nationalism has been one the defining characteristics of international affairs in the last few years, and has metamorphosed into hateful, violent attacks against targeted groups. Examining globalization as an experience, I explore in this essay the relationship between nationalism and globalization through four case studies in four different locales. Each case reveals an aspect of this nuanced, bidirectional relationship.

Globalization leaves profound impacts where it reaches, but these impacts are not equal. Individuals understand their “globalization experience” through the localization process, where they put their perception of reality under local frameworks for meaning-making and articulation. This process is variable depending on historical, socio-political, and economic contexts.

For the white working class in the U.S. and the U.K., the globalization experience is characterized by frustration over lack of access to economic resources, anxiety over competition for government assistance and jobs, as well as grievances over their disappearing cultural dominance. Globalization also finds local cultural logics and expressions. Readily available rhetorics, along with historical, socio-political contexts are important in understanding the localization process of global phenomena.

At the same time, options for legitimate expressions of domestic concerns resulting globalization are limiting, due to the moral stigmas associated with white working class. Accusations of racism and bigotry are interpreted as means to invalidate these voices. Hence, the appeal of nationalism as the form of expression for anti-globalization concerns is mainly due to its symbolic distance from the stigmas of racism and cultural incompetency, giving voice to white working class people in politics.

Nationalist rhetoric can also travel in the opposite direction, where political elites actively employ nationalist framing to shape the public understanding of abstract global concepts. Although nationalism is usually identified by conservative, isolationist sentiments, the variety in forms and expressions of nationalism can enable progressive politics and global integration. All depends on specific contexts.

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McKay, Tara, and Nicole Angotti. 2016. “Ready Rhetorics: Political Homophobia and Activist Discourses in Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda.” Qualitative Sociology 39(4):397–420. doi: 10.1007/s11133–016–9342–7.

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