Mediating Cosmopolitanism: Strategic Pluralisations of Culture in Beijing 2008
Centuries after their institution, the Olympic Games have evolved as mega-events that celebrate cultural hybridity and ethnic diversity within the ‘nation’. Their ‘hosts’ mobilise them to provide a progressive, linear narrative of their culture in human history. ‘Culture’ is reified in a strategic way to embody ‘imagined’ national values and ‘inscribe’ them onto a global public sphere, where the ‘host’ country comes ‘into being’. The opening and closing ceremonies in particular ‘frame’ the event, constructing the ‘public face’ the host aspires to present to the rest of the world. At the same time, defenders of a human rights agenda critique the host city’s tendency to silence the politics of the Olympic project, which may support national narratives of excellence, but in practice leads to the exclusion of the socially disadvantaged and some ethnic minorities. This story also occupies space in global public spheres, but is mediated by independent agents who highlight the negative aspects of developmental projects that take place around the Olympics. Thus, artistic self-presentation and political struggles against it coexist and collide in unpredictable ways.
This paper examines such conflicting narratives in the context of the Beijing 2008 Games. Through a discursive analysis of the opening and closing ceremonies, it seeks to provide some insight into Chinese understandings of identity as a ‘displaced’ agent in the ‘birth’ and ‘evolution’ of Western European civilisation that returns to claim a central place in human history. But the analysis of this ‘mediated’ cosmopolitanism becomes a performative contradiction: for the critics of the Olympic project, it sanctions Chinese policies that erase certain social identities from the nation-state. The multiculturalist ambiance of the Olympic mega-event symbolically resolves the crisis generated by the calls for national development through careful urban planning. An interdisciplinary analysis of the two ceremonies and secondary material suggests that national self-narration takes place simultaneously in different expressive/visual modes, enabling the coexistence (and communication) of symbolic and material domains.
Keywords: Cosmopolitanism, Cultural Industries, Mega-Events, Olympic Games, Public Sphere, Social Movements, Urban Planning
Dr. Rodanthi Tzanelli
Lecturer in Sociology, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds