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Prof. R.W. Boomkens: "Globalization is the characteristic of the noughties"

05 January 2010

Now the decade has drawn to a close, we can label the years gone by. If the nineties were the age of individualism, the noughties will go down in history as the age of globalization, according to René Boomkens, professor of Cultural Philosophy at the University of Groningen.

Boomkens: ‘Actually, terrorism had the most impact in the past decade.’ And that has everything to do with the globalization already mentioned and with the breakthrough of the new media. ‘We were still really mucking around with e-mail and internet in the nineties. But by now, the role of the new media has increased tremendously. As a result, so has the global impact of terrorist acts.’

Online communities

In the old days, there were only newspapers and television. Nowadays, with internet, people engage in debate much more often – everyone writing and reacting to internet forums and blogs, sometimes politely, sometimes insultingly. Boomkens: The involvement of individuals and groups is different than it used to be. New types of communities have arisen on the internet. ‘Some of them are very superficial, while others can be quite intense. People suffering from a certain illness for instance can join a support group via internet. Or someone can discuss headscarves and minarets on In any case, everyone can access thousands of different kinds of news. To some – our queen is a good example – this is confusing.’

Vulnerable community

‘Thanks to terrorism we now also know that we live in an unpredictable and labyrinthine world,’ says Boomkens. ‘As a community, we turn out to be vulnerable. As of 2007, we can add the crisis to the equation.’ Thanks to developments like these, it has become more and more apparent just how dependent upon one another we are. ‘We didn’t use to know much about the debt crisis in the United States. But thanks to the way they sold mortgages to those who couldn’t really afford them, the world is now in crisis. And that crisis drives home the fact that not everything is up to individual choice – some developments can just happen to us.’

Global interdependence

The past ten years have shown how strongly interdependent we are. Boomkens: ‘We used to joke a bit about the rise of China. The country was so far away that it didn’t seem to affect us. These days, that’s different. Thanks to globalization, China has become a country like Belgium to us; whatever happens there immediately influences what we do here. Those effects are much larger than they used to be.’

Idolizing traditional communities
According to Boomkens, things can go either of two ways following the globalization decade. ‘Given that the dependency on global developments is often felt to be extremely threatening, this could lead to the idolization of traditional communities.’ As a consequence, nationalism, chauvinism, patriotism and the like could grow. ‘This is a development which certainly can’t be dismissed, although I don’t really expect it to be too bad.’

Relaxed attitude

On the other hand, the realization of how interdependent we are could lead to a much more relaxed attitude. ‘Thanks to the economic crisis, the whole philosophy of competition has been stripped of authority. Radical faith in the free market led to it running rampant, since there were next to no control measures. This could even lead to people returning to socialist ideology – although in that case they’ll probably rename it.’

Curriculum vitae

René Boomkens studied Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam until 1982. In 1998, he obtained his PhD at the RUG with a thesis on urban culture. Since then, he has been Professor of Social and Cultural Philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy, where his research interests include new media and globalization. Since December 2005, he has been a member of the Council for Culture, which advises the Dutch government on cultural policy. His most recent book was published in 2008: Topkitsch en Slow Science (Van Gennep, Amsterdam).

Note for the press

More information: René Boomkens, tel. (050) 363 64 52, e-mail: r.w.boomkens

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.10 p.m.
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