Managing local practices in global contexts
Managing local practices in global contexts

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Managing local practices in global contexts

2.5.1 Anglo-zone connections

Much of today's global interconnectedness has been shaped by the legacies of long-standing trading patterns, imperial expansion, colonisation and strategic military interventions. From the late seventeenth century to the mid twentieth century, Britain presided over the largest empire in global history – although expansion was tempered by adjustment as former colonies gained independence. With the benefit of hindsight, the American War of Independence (1775–1783) or the American Revolution, as it is called in the USA and Canada, in which the American colonists won independence from British rule, might be seen as sowing the seeds of a new global order.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Germany's famous chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, expressed what proved to be remarkably prescient vision of Anglo-Saxon interconnectedness. Asked, in 1898, what he thought the decisive factor in modern history would be, he replied: ‘the fact that the North Americans speak English’ (Cairncross, 2001, p. 281). The legacy of colonisation and the rise of the USA as the world's sole superpower has contributed to a position in which English is the dominant or official language in more than sixty countries, and more people speak English as a second language than learn it as their native tongue – no other language has ever been in this position (Cairncross, 2001, p. 280).

In some classifications, India is part of the Anglo-zone of countries that include substantial traces of English language and culture – making it relatively easy for functions such as telephone call centres to relocate to India where labour costs are relatively low. Meanwhile, the brain circulation of India's transglobal entrepreneurs returning from Silicon Valley and other high-profile clusters, offers the potential to transfer economically relevant expertise, generated abroad, to Indian contexts.

Box 2 India's Anglo-zone connections

India's recorded history stretches back to the third millennium BC. It has been punctuated by numerous invasions, including by the Turks, Afghans, Mongolians and Moghals, before the British, Portuguese and French who came as traders and then became rulers. The gradual evolution of Indian culture has been shaped by the influences of its invaders. For example, the Moghal legacy included a huge influence on Indian architecture and the Indian way of dressing, while 150 years of British rule left the English language, legal frameworks and bureaucratic models of organisation. Along with Hindi, English is recognised as an official language – although a further fourteen of the many languages spoken in India are recognised as official in certain regions. Against this background of linguistic diversity, English has emerged as a de facto standard for national, political and commercial communication. From a global perspective, this familiarity with English is a source of competitive advantage in the battle for transglobal outsourcing work – whether it be the relocation of telephone call centres from the UK or low-cost software engineers, in Bangalore or Hyderabad, working in concert with their US colleagues or counterparts in Silicon Valley.

While the superficial signs of foreign incursions into India and the legacy of its 150-year period of British colonial rule are readily apparent, India's institutional rules of practice have been remarkably effective in perpetuating deeply ingrained beliefs within various sections of its fragmented population. The power mediated by tacit knowing generated in previous practices has proved to be remarkably effective in guiding the evolution of new practices along similar lines. Traditionally, India's social structure was characterised by division of labour on the basis of professional duties, but these divisions ossified into caste hierarchies that continue to riddle society despite efforts to improve merit-based access to opportunities.

After its independence from Britain, India adopted a brand of socialism based on centrally planned import substitution aimed at mitigating some of the social consequences of capitalism on its poor. It was considered essential that the public sectors occupied the economy's ‘commanding heights’ and focused on building ‘temples of science’ in the form of universities and higher education institutes. One consequence is that education enjoys a positive image as the only gateway to upward social mobility. In postcolonial India wealth creation and businesses making profits were frequently frowned upon as social evils. Socialism gave way to ‘statism’ that precluded significant growth through entrepreneurship, leading to a brain drain as an Indian diaspora emigrated to advanced nations. Although many of these Indians did well overseas, until recently they appeared to be reluctant either to invest in India or to return home to the country that had frustrated their ambitions. Possibly the feeling was mutual? Members of the Indian diaspora are officially classed as ‘Non Resident Indians’ (NRI) – which has often been reinterpreted as ‘Non Required Indians’, reflecting a dim view of those who left to seek a different life. However, there are signs that India's newfound prosperity is softening attitudes. While India's economic base remains grounded in agriculture, it is simultaneously climbing the high-technology ladder. On this account, the transglobal mobility of its NRIs is facilitating direct access to high-technology practices in other contexts. A balance of payment crisis in 1990 prompted the beginning of economic reforms in India and some liberalisation of the economy. This cautious embrace of selected aspects of globalisation has helped India's fledgling information technology (IT) industry, and pharmaceutical and niche automobile suppliers. After the Indian economy's decade of miracle growth, Indians working abroad are becoming increasingly engaged with collaborations involving their domestic colleagues. Centres such as Bangalore and Hyderabad are no longer simply centres of abundant low-cost labour, but appear poised to become hubs of design and engineering skills. It has taken some time, but NRIs appear to be returning home in greater numbers with money, zest, specialist knowledge and entrepreneurial know-how.

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