Core Theory and Analytical Models

Globalization is commonly seen as a recent phenomenon. There would of course be no doubt that the mechanics of globalization are more sophisticated, its forces more intense, and its visibility larger now than before (Castells 1996, 1997, 1998). However, phenomena like trade, politics, technology, and religion had obvious trans-national dimensions already in Antiquity. Increasingly, therefore, notions of globalization are brought into historical and archaeological analysis (LaBianca and Scham 2006). Many issues in debates about current globalization do in fact have relevance for interpreting ancient societies and cultures. This project targets one such issue, namely the question of the precise reception of global impulses in local practices during globalization.

    The LDG studies will typically ask questions like: to what extent were global influences actually adopted: in what ways and fields did such influences integrate in people’s everyday life: did such globalization produce hybrid cultures? Were global trends or artefacts reinterpreted locally and then fed back into global discourses of, say, technology, administrative standards, or religious practices in their re-defined versions? Central to our attempts at answering is a modified version of Robert Redfield’s (1960) notion of great and little traditions. We have provisionally reformulated that into a notion of great and little discourses. In line with the late Foucault we see a discourse as a cluster of media (thoughts, beliefs, habits, actions, policies, architecture, etc.) that formats the participating subjects into seeing and practicing the world in specific ways. In opposition to Foucault we emphasize that not all discourses are top-down powered. Especially de Certeau (1984) has shown that users of cultural products develop their own discourse tactics, often mundane and unnoticeable. Minute analyses of practices and spaces will help identify such discourses (de Certeau and cf. Connerton 1989). Ancient societies, no less than their modern counterparts, consisted of webs of intersecting discourses. Some of these were initiated from the producers, others from consumers and daily practitioners. Culturally literate individuals would navigate across this web, exercising a number of discourses sequentially or simultaneously.

    We propose to focus the analysis upon the discourses (not the individuals) and to attempt to identify their location and function in specific social fields (Bourdieu 1970, 1991). Given our view of discourses (above), this boils down to identifying the media of a given discourse, its system of initiation and propagation, and the social bodies exercising power in the ecology of those media (Stordalen, forthcoming). We will also interrogate the relevance of Manuel Castells’ notion “space of flows” for understanding the dynamics of these fields. Our preliminary analysis suggests that great (or globalizing) discourses resided – in terms of media, social bodies, propagating systems – in fields building ethnic (“national”) and imperial identities (cf. Smith 2004). They were initiated and controlled from elite levels in society and developed corresponding cultural programs. Little (or local) discourses resided in social fields promoting local and regional identities. They were very diversely initiated and controlled (cf. Connerton 1989, de Certau 1984).

    Obviously, there was considerable variation in the formation and function of social fields over time and over regions in the pre-modern Levant. Such variations would have conditioned local impact of global discourse. This is a challenge to our comparative study. Certain social fields were, nevertheless, fairly persistent due to their basic functionality. The first such field would be the household or extended family, confluent paradigms of which are richly documented throughout our records. Secondly, there is the city or the township, also documented with variations. Moving up the social hierarchy, it becomes harder to identify social fields, and they seem to have been more subject to change. As our third social field, we posit the region or sometimes the tribe, with their functionalities of military defence, intermarriage delineation, shared festivals, etc. Finally, there is the ethnos (or “nation”, ethnic group), which was in practice often conceived of through linguistic coherence or salient habits (such as circumcision). As an expansion of the national level there is the empire. Secondary national states often spanned vast cultural differences and so were in fact imperialising in the modern sense.

    Traditionally, scholarship on cultural exchange in Antiquity has focused on nations and empires. Recent scholarship has paid more attention to household and town levels and the interaction with central powers (Schloen 2001, Wattenmaker 1998, van der Toorn 1996, Bodel and Olyan 2008). We propose to trace the specific impact of various globalizing impulses (technology, archaeology, etc.) in these (and other) social fields. Identifying and charting the forms and variations of these social fields and the ways in which they promote, resist, or re-interpret globalizing impulses is an important task for the LDG core project, and it can only be done in conversation with the individual projects.

    The LDG project is comparative synchronically as well as diachronically: we chart interplay between imperialising and local discourses across time and across different regions and media at a given time. Comparison is set up on the possibility that (a) interplay in one domain (say: religion) could show functional consistency across centuries in the Pre-Modern Levant, and (b) interplay in one domain (say: political symbolism) is likely to have functional similarities to parallel interplay in another domain (say: economy). Probing these possibilities and documenting the outcome is a central endeavour of LDG.