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transculturalism and globalisation in children’s literature

February 21, 2012

“Understood in a broad sense,” John Stephens writes, “culture is society-dependent and tradition-based, and functions to develop cognition and foster values in more or less local ways. As an aspect of culture, children’s literature reflects models of individual identities and represents these in ways which enhance the cognitive ability to deal with moral, ethical and social complexity. However, the literature is increasingly subject to contradictory impulses. On the one hand, it tends to favour local themes and concerns; on the other hand, it is subject to the power of transculturalism and globalisation to erase local differences and integrate people into a larger geopolitical system. The resulting tension points to a need for the literature and its accompanying critical discourses to reassess their objectives.

The multicultural ideologies which emerged during the second half of the twentieth century (and which are still in an emergent phase in some parts of the world) nowadays seem to be fading, if not failing. A decreasing number of children’s books dealing with multiculturalism as an issue are being published, even within the children’s literature of the so-called New World settler societies (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the USA), which historically had maintained a rate of migrant intake as a high proportion of the overall population. To some degree, the focus within postmodernism on the idea of the ‘other’ – especially the marginalised or excluded ‘other’ – coincided with multiculturalism, extending the significance of the term beyond its exclusive link with ethnicity in countries such as Australia or Canada. Countries which have fostered a multicultural ideology will not in the future cease to be multi-ethnic and multicultural, needless to say, but whatever literature emerges about cultural diversity will probably represent it in one of two broad ways: either as a glocal aspect of everyday life rather than a phenomenon which mediates power; or as an aspect of the more recent concept of transculturalism. Transculturalism, according to Jeff Lewis, can be characterised by ‘its emphasis on the problematics of contemporary culture, most particularly in terms of relationships, meaning-making, and power formation’ (‘From Culturalism to Transculturalism’, n.p.). Thus while transculturalism will continue the project of multiculturalism, it will favour challenge rather than advocacy.” (v)

He continues: “At the same time, transculturalism is also concerned with tensions and instabilities. Cultures exist in a state of constant change, and their transformative possibilities may be either positive or negative. Hence transculturalism considers the ways in which social groups create and disseminate meanings, and also the ways in which such meanings may disappear or implode. The ‘rise and fall’ of multiculturalism is itself a pertinent example.” (vi)

Processes of globalisation, especially in their emphasis on world-wide systems and their uses of new means of communication and new media, tend to detach social and cultural practices from a relationship with a particular place. A point of resistance to this process, however, lies in the everyday – in what is informal, without organisation, even random – in which humanity enacts interpersonal relationships in a world of tangible things. Culture exists more concretely in places than in sign systems and the bodies that inhabit culture enact cultural practices by expressing and repeating them.” (viii)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) John Stephens (2009) Editorial International Research in Children’s Literature (Special Issue: Internationalism, Transculturalism and Globalisation: Manifestations in Children’s Literature), Dec 2009, Vol. 2, No. 2 : pp. v-viii


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