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Museo Kordillyera: Cultural meanings in the age of globalization
Roland P. Rabang

The exhibition gallery of the Museo Kordilyera, which currently features exhibits obtained from research undertaken by the UP Baguio faculty. -- Roland Rabang


The argument was in favor of better weather on a school day, but the reality in the shift of school calendar from June to August in the school year 2014-2015 is in line with the Philippines’ move towards aligning its educational goals in the direction of the trend in internationalization.

That schools will open in August with the promise of better weather was inconceivable for some, considering that the worst of typhoons occur in the country during this month.Thus, it made better sense to say that the count ry’s educational system is taking the first steps towards transnational teaching methods and practices.

In the University of the Philippines, the formal declaration took place as early as four years ago when university President Alfredo E. Pascual acknowledged the reality of ASEAN 2015 makes it imperative for UP not to ignore the prospects of internationalization.

But ASEAN 2015 is conceptually a multilateral agreement for economic cooperation by the countries under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It has the idea of facilitating greater economic flows between ASEAN countries, and where the call is for this system to be in place by 2015.

This sudden appreciation and apprehension of a homogenous, borderless region in Southeast Asia is, no doubt, occasioned by that phenomenon called “globalization.” Characterized by a world “shrunk” by a greater capability at interconnectedness, globalization is indeed a creation of the modern world.

Modernity and modernization are key concepts in the existence of transnational organizations such as the ASEAN. The European Union is, in fact, a model for the global economic framework in that it has the attributes of the so-called “institutions of modernity” such as capital, industry, technology, communication, and military power.

An emphasis on institutions other than capitalism only served to intensify Europe’s currency on the global scale as it gained further leverage from the results of its experimentation with globalization, at first through the European Economic Community (EEC), then the EU. Throughout the process, not only were there nations of the world on the watch, they were participants – directly or indirectly – in this movement towards modernity.

The world turns, so that modernization is not the sole purview of Europe even if it can be argued that most countries in Southeast Asia were at one time European and American outposts and thus their path towards modernity was suppressed by colonialism. On the contrary, we can infer that with ASEAN 2015, Southeast Asian nations seek to project itself in the global community by appropriating these institutions of modernity for the purpose of establishing a pan-Asian economic power through the strategy of transnational cooperation.

Globalization and cultural flows

Experts agree that global interconnectedness enables the establishment of relationships among the peoples of the world in ways that do not even require them to be present in the same physical space. As a result of these social relations, modernity affects people in different ways, and among these is the identification of common cultural threads.

Because of this, it can be said that “globalization” is not merely concerned with global economic flows, but also with global cultural flows. This is the reason why ASEAN 2015, or to be more specific, the “ASEAN Economic Cooperation of 2015,” has a corollary objective, five years hence, and that is “integration.” This completes the concept that the ASEAN should be economically and cultu rally integrated by the year 2020.

“Integration” is where the university enters the picture. Integration among nations is seen in one vantage through the “internationalization” of universities. In July 2014, UP Baguio held a two-day conference on internationalization on the premise that the university, to include its non-teaching personnel, must confront the realities of globalization by adopting strategies geared towards internationalization.

The UP System’s director of the Office of International Linkages (OIL) Dr. Rhodora Azanza said that globalization has resulted in a “wave of mobility” among university students, faculty and even the institutions themselves. Azanza said this persistence by individuals at cosmopolitanism knowledge about different parts of the world – is an indication of an increasing global consciousness. Thus it is inevitable that universities respond by internationalizing.

This response by universities conforms to the idea of establishing social relations without being “co-present” according to sociologist Anthony Giddens. Azanza said globalization has become the code of conduct and guiding beliefs (“ethos and value system”) of universities and this has resulted in the “hybridization of academic culture and pedagogy.”

Encounters at the global stage between and among individuals representing universities follow certain guidelines established in what the academic community calls “international quality assurance.” These “interactions,” as Azanza calls it, encourages mobility among students and faculty, as the wave of globalization goes on.

In the social relations process, universities promote each other’s “social influences” advancing a sort of healthy competition in terms of “specializations.” Fields and areas in which the university excel in are usually a springboard for research collaborations, which is also a strategy for inter-university and trans-university interactions. What happens is an engagement in a sort of “identity politics” in which universities promote each other’s “niches” or disciplinary strengths, be it in the natural sciences, technology, social sciences, cultural studies, or arts and humanities.

Azanza does not balk at competition. On the contrary, she said it is competition that drives universities towards greater “visibility.” Universities like UP, by virtue of its charter, might already be “visible” enough as a national university, but international “collaboration is still a strategy” for global visibility, according to Azanza.

Translocal learning process

As a constituent university of the UP system, how is UP Baguio located under the larger framework of internationalization and globalization? UP Baguio Chancellor Raymundo D. Rovillos in the same 2014 conference said globalization must be seen in terms of “tertiary education’s contribution to society.” Thus, while internationalization stipulates that universities take keen interest in international research cooperation, Rovillos said this climate of cooperation demands that studies and research must take into account problems and “issues of change” that take place in the grassroots communities.

For this reason, Rovillos sees no conflict in his administration’s assertion that in this age of globalization, the focus on Cordillera studies – the promotion and protection of Cordillera and northern Luzon heritage, culture and the arts – should be stronger than ever. This is supported by an argument from University of California in Santa Barbara Mellichamp Professor of Global Studies and Sociology Jan Nedeveen Pieterse who wrote that culture could be seen as an outward looking “translocal learning process.”

Nowhere does this view of Pieterse better articulated than the recent inauguration of UP Baguio’s Museo Kordilyera. UP Baguio’s ethnographic museum upends our traditional view of museums where it is supposedly a repository of cultural relics. Far from displaying relics, the Museo Kordilyera is distinguished by its function as a “living museum” because of its “integral connection to the scholarly work of the faculty from the different colleges of the University.”

For this reason, it would seem that the museum’s primary aim is to serve as a “showcase” of the results of faculty research. While this might be so, “showcasing” does not necessarily equate to “self-aggrandizing.” For if one truly aspires for the “preservation and enrichment of the indigenous cultures of the Cordillera Administrative Region,” the place and its peoples – components of a lived culture – need to be continually interrogated: its lifeways translated and re-interpreted. Here is where the museum appropriates a tool for research, ethnography – which used to be within the traditional purview of anthropology – in the continued production of new knowledge on the Cordillera.

If the UP Baguio faculty is producing new knowledge on the Cordillera at present, where lies the collaborative and interactive aspect of internationalization that has been the mantra of global integration? That “instance of changing location,” if we go by Pieterse’s argument on the “translocal learning process,” is when the Museo Kordilyera becomes a receptacle for an increasingly mobile group of learners and educators who might have known about the museum through the advantages provided by a global information system.

This is the vision of the museum think tanks who had declared that the Museo Kordilyera “will serve as a platform for dialogue with various communities in the wider world through themed exhibitions, symposia, lectures, Internet presence, cultural performances, and demonstration of knowledge and skills of local artisans and cultural bearers from Cordillera and other ethno-linguistic groups.”

Bilateral and multi-lateral agreements (and UP had signed more than 300 of these by 2014) are certainly an indication of a willingness to undertake team collaborations between universities, be it in research or in other related undertakings. But Rovillos acknowledges that an acceptance of the “philosophical and ideological” underpinnings of globalization and internationalization should also be tempered by the pragmatic challenges that internationalization brings.

Administrative challenges abound, Rovillos said, and one obstacle might take the form of providing facilities that would accommodate inbound international researchers for a team-up with their local counterparts. At UP Baguio, this is being addressed by the establishment of an international house called “Balay International” which is part of the “international quality assurance” requirement. The Museo Kordilyera might have been a significant response to the requirements for quality assurance but Rovillos acknowledges that there is more to be done.

Integration and disintegration

On the other hand, the idea of globalization and internationalization is not without its critics. And opposition to globalization goes by the term “neoliberalism.” If there is a commonality between neoliberalism and internationalization, it is that both are responses to globalization as a spawn of modernity. Specifically, neoliberalism interrogates and seeks to subvert capitalism as an institution of modernity.

Critics of globalization rile against the dominance of the “consensualist” model of society that views the world as essentially competitive, and therefore people either thrive or perish as they play the game of life, so to speak. Its critics view internationalization as a competition of how well the individual conforms to a particular code of conduct. For instance, hard work is paid for with material rewards. If you are unemployed, either you are not assertive enough or worse, you are a deviant for not leading a productive life.

These are the issues that the framers of internationalization seek to address and to harmonize in the run-up to the ASEAN integration in 2020. On the one hand, the consensualist perspective is just a frame of reference in a society that is also characterized as multi-structuralist and therefore acknowledges diversity on both economic and cultural fronts.

In UP, the university takes pride in its identifying system of instruction providing attention to “service to the people” first, more than the aspiration to seek gainful employment overseas. This mindset then draws attention to the goals of nationalism against the trends of internationalization.

The debate goes on. After all, if nations seek to reap the benefits of integration, there is also a part of nationhood that disintegrates. Culture plays a big role in this debate. Because if globalization and internationalization allows culture to flow across the nations, then this is a continuous process on a global scale. Attention to issues of cultural meanings must then be given paramount importance in this process.

(The writer is an assistant professor of Language and Literature at the College of Arts and Communications at the University of the Philippines Baguio. He also teaches Cultural Criticism, Literary Theory, and Journalism subjects.)

Ibaloy elders Vicky Macay and Felix Siplat perform a ritual during the inauguration of the Museo Kordilyera on January 31, 2017. -- Roland Rabang


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