Hi-Tech and Alternative Medicine: The Role of the New Middle-Class in the Globalisation of Culture Student: Nicolas John Supervisor: Dr. Eva Illouz



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The Case Studies


Why choose two case studies, and why choose hi-tech and alternative medicine in particular? The choice is clearly crucial, for “poor case selection can vitiate even the most ingenious attempts, at a later stage, to make valid causal inferences” (King, 1994, p. 115). The decision to work with two case studies stems from the theoretical and historical background presented above. Firstly, it comes from the recognition that globalisation is complex and multi-dimensional, a point repeatedly made in the literature. It is not about one-way flows and simple models of cultural imperialism. Therefore, I have decided to take two case studies which, in certain ways, complement one another, insofar as they represent different kinds of globalisation. Crudely speaking, one involves globalisation “from the west”, and the other globalisation “from the east”, but it is clearly more complicated than that (see Table 1). I certainly would not hold the two up as binary opposites, but, notwithstanding the fact that much “globalisation from the east” is actually mediated by the west (if not utterly western), I would nonetheless argue that we are dealing here with two different types of globalisation, which give some expression to the idea of “complexity”. Part of understanding this complexity will clearly involve relating to another aspect of the complexity of globalisation, namely the processes of accommodation that cultural imports undergo in their new society.
Table - Hi-tech and
Alternative Medicine


Hi-tech

Healing

Mind

Body

Reason

Emotion

Futuristic

Past-oriented

Innovation

Tradition

Fast

Slow

Hard

Soft

Wealth

Health

Material

Spiritual

Risk

Certainty

Tense

Relaxed

Technology

Body

Young

Old

Furthermore, the two cases represent different aspects of the new middle-class: on the one hand, a technical expertise based on rationality and the instrumental attainment of goals; and on the other, a critique of western rationality and the western materialistic lifestyle. In fact, each field appears to see the other as very “other” indeed. Alternative medicine uses the hi-tech lifestyle (with especial reference to the number of hours worked and the conditions of high stress) as the archetypically wrong way to live,17 while hi-tech companies and employees use alternative healing treatments both in the office and on vacation in ways which indicate that they clearly see them as the opposite of work.


Table - Hi-tech and healing:
hypothesised areas of similarity

Hi-tech & Healing

Social class of practitioners

Social class of customers/clients

Skills acquired through professional training

Global outlook / transnational identity

Expertise

Gurus

Educational/military background

Yet the similarities are also apparent (see Table 2). Most notably, in both cases we are talking of professionals – more or less organised – whose day-to-day work involves the manipulation of bodies of abstract knowledge. This has implications on their socio-economic status. Also, both fields experienced a period of huge growth in the 1990s, parallel with other glaring examples of the globalisation of Israeli society and culture (the rapid growth of the number of McDonald’s restaurants is but one example (today there are nearly 100), to which we could add the appearance of shopping malls, cable TV, trips made abroad for both business and pleasure,18 and so on). We could also safely say that each of these fields is representative of larger processes taking place across the western world: on the one hand, rationalisation, progress, technology, “the colonization of the lifeworld”; and on the other, a search for ancient wisdom, holism, spirituality, New Age. And, crucially for this research, we are talking about two cultures whose spiritual and symbolic “headquarters” are overseas, which means their members can be expected to posses transnational identities of varying degrees. In other words, common to both fields is that they are clearly examples of globalisation, and that, in ways that remain to be elaborated, the new middle-class members leading these processes have some shared interest in the globalisation of Israeli society.
In short, these are two case studies which express much of the complexity of both globalisation and the new middle-class. I shall use them to describe the work of the new middle-class in the importing, diffusion and commodification of two different cultures in Israeli society. Generally speaking, given that the main issue at the centre of my research is the connection between class and globalisation in Israel, there is a strong argument for employing more cases than the number of inferences I hope to make: to rely on one case in order to say something about globalisation in Israel is to forgo insights and invite errors that, to some extent, could be avoided by taking two cases, on the condition, of course, that they are not perfectly correlated with each other (King, 1994, ch. 4). I believe I have shown that they are not.
Lest there be doubt concerning the local significance of both of the proposed cases, I offer a brief survey of them both:
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