By Daniela Negruta
You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Gandhi
It is commonly considered that transitions open the gates to progress, new possibilities, and are usually believed to bring along positive changes. It can also be claimed that transition is a phenomenon which fully characterizes the 21st century, as globalization is directly proportional with constant change, something suggested also by A. Appadurai’s theory of disjuncture. Flows of ideas, culture, money and technology circulate across national or continental borders, and make the world change at a very rapid pace. One of those flows is represented by modernity, which, as it can be easily noticed, spreads differently from one culture to another: somewhere it has already been successfully infiltrated in the culture, while in other places it is still a new phenomenon. In the West, modernity is a subject which has been discussed and examined by theorists since the 20th century, and it eventually became familiar to most of the people. However, in the Global South, modernity is still a sensible subject, a stranger trying to integrate among the old customs and traditions. In other words, if we would take into account the earlier mentioned theory of disjuncture, modernity would be characterized by cultural homogenization or even cultural absorption, as forces from metropolises tend to become indigenized in smaller societies. In this context, the Global South is still in the middle of this process, a phenomenon widely examined nowadays by cultural anthropologists, such as Mark Liechty.
The easiest way to see how modernity penetrates tradition in the Global South is to observe how many people from there moved to the West, and actually find the reason for such a big step in their lives. To understand this better, I am going to present the result of an interview done as a part of project work (‘Dream’ of Modernity) for my university. “It was a very difficult place to escape, because if you are a woman, you do not have any rights” – says Latifa*(1), a 26 year old woman from Pakistan, who moved to Denmark a couple of years ago – “I wanted to have zero start”. Latifa comes from an upper class family from Faisalabad and had a ‘dream’ life in front of her, in her early 20s since the age given…or that’s what her family and the society made her believe at that time. After finishing high school, Latifa got married to one of her father’s business partners, who would provide an economically comfortable life for her, something considered ideal in the traditionalist Pakistani culture, as the interviewee affirmed. Everything turned upside down when her husband started abusing her. Even though her father knew that her husband was abusive, he insisted that she stayed with him, because that would be the ‘normal’ thing to do, as the interviewee revealed. At this point, Latifa decided that she wanted to escape from this way of life – “[…]I was in a bad relationship, I had been married for seven years, and that was the reason, because of social pressure, because my family did not support me”. In this context, Latifa decided to let go of the traditional lifestyle considered right in the Pakistani society and come to the West: “that society is a very male dominating society, because of that it was so hard for a girl, if she wants something – she just has to let it go, she cannot just do what she wants to do, and that was hard for me”. Being an independent woman, with her own career and aspirations was contrary and rejected by the society she lived in, as modernity implies individualism and homogenization, which is still a controversial phenomenon for them. “If I wanted to live by myself, I needed to get away from the relationship and go away from there, because it was not possible just by staying in Pakistan”, confesses Latifa. The decision to move to Denmark was not supported by her family, but Latifa felt the need to rise up against traditional values in order to achieve personal freedom: “now they [the family] know to what extent they can control me”.
Latifa’s story portrays how difficult it is to digest a new, modern way of life for a society, which still can not let go of tradition. It is a story of a powerful woman, who decided to start a new life in an entirely different country in order to achieve personal freedom. It is just one story that was shared with you here, there are a many people with similar stories; people who had to escape from tradition, to leave behind their friends and family in order to fully enhance modernity and its features, in this case individualism and subjectivism. Stories like Latifa’s represent the difficult transitions that many people have to go through in order to jump into a whole new way of life, in order to escape a society which expects one to hold on to traditional values, in order to fulfill individual interests contrary to the social ones. Stories like this one also represent the way globalization can empower people to change their lives, to escape from tradition towards an open environment, full of opportunities. However, the concept of modernity is very complex and it is hard to estimate and label the way in which it influences an individual or a society. Is this a good transition? No idea. But it surely needs will power and sacrifice.
*(1): the name is changed, the interviewee wanted to stay anonymous
Credits on the illustration to Daniela Negruta.
About the Author:
Daniela Negruta, 21, is from Republic of Moldova, and is currently studying Bachelor’s in Communication at Roskilde University, Denmark.