Flexible Citizenship By Aihwa Ong

Flexible Citizenship, Ong Response
Saying No to the West

In Flexible Citizenship, Ong discusses the rejection and incorporation of liberalism (e.g. the West) at the same time in Asia. Ong’s discussion follows with Huntington’s prediction that in the future (today), it will be culture that dominates international tensions. But Ong also reminds us that economics will certainly take over discussions either way, as it brings the most tangible consequences. Asian countries reconcile by using liberalization to build competitive economies, and at the same time hold on to an identity that in some ways rejects the West. Ong states that this is an irony- that as globalization takes place, we are one again looking at Oriental societies and civilizations as “rival cultural regimes” (186).

Asian economies reject the idea that the East and West will eventually come together, and rather critiques the West as they use its economic ideologies. Unlike the West, the East needs government intervention- their “nurturing” of the middle class is “essential” to economic competitiveness, while at the same time participating in global capitalism(198).

This reading reminded me of a paper I read titled Anomaly as a Method: Collecting Chinese Micro-Theories of Transition by Chih-yu Shih (2009) in which he argues that China has embraced capitalist ideas for their progress, but transition remains questionable as they are trying to hold onto their cultural beliefs that are also tied strongly to socialism. I think Ong might agree with this, as he also shows that while the East, like China has used liberal rationalities that has evolved with the West since WWII, they have purposefully (or inevitably?) not completely reached Westernization. Is “sphere of individual liberty” as Huntington emphasizes possible at all in countries like China given its economic history? Will globalization actually lead to countries looking back to their original civilization as a way to identify themselves rather than fully embracing Western norms?

Does globalization then always have to mean modernization, and thus implying Westernization? It would seem that the answer is no, seeing as how many in the East, like Malayans depend on their government’s participation in the market and private sphere while rooting for capitalism. Rather, the East is showing the rest of the world that it is possible to separate Western economic and social ideologies.

(For SOC 309)

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