JBU Conference


The awesome task of identifying what missionary action should be taken in the opening decades of the 21st century is the focal challenge of this Conference. The task that has been set for me is that of sketching the shape of the new environment that such missions will encounter. This new environment is the stage on which missions are expected to the play. Hence to effectively stage the play, it is important to have some idea of the dimensions of the stage itself.

There are at least three sets of interacting factors that are of critical importance to any understanding of environments of human societies and civilisations, previously and currently. These are:


  1. Demographic changes related to the growth of human populations. Planet earth today is about the same physical size as it was when no more than about 1,000,000 people lived in groups of 50 to 100 persons with little or no contact between them. Yet, today approximately six billion people inhabit planet earth. Not only are human populations exponentially larger than there were in human antiquity but on average people are living longer, remaining healthier and having fewer children than at any other time in human history. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, this trend is likely to continue with minor period adjustments. The average human lifespan has increased from under 30 years to over seventy years. The most dramatic improvements have occurred in the twentieth century. As people remain healthier they are not only able to stay in the labour force longer but also have the capacity to enjoy their life’s earnings. Consequently, the legacy being turned over to younger generations is taking longer and getting smaller than in previous times. Indeed, in some societies the legacy is debt that younger generations will have to pay. The scourge of HIV/AIDS, new infectious diseases and bacteria resistant to antibiotics may be nature’s way of correcting this explosion in the human population and extension in the human lifecycle.
  2. Ecological changes related to growth in human populations and the consequential shifts in the land to person ratios and the consequential resource and governance implications. The living space for human groups has shrunken considerably. Humans are living in larger groups and in closer proximity to each other than ever before. Increasing urbanisation has created special demands by way of services required to accommodate densely populated areas. Moreover, the standard of material comfort demanded by these larger numbers and groups of people far exceed what was previously the norm. Conflict resolution by groups putting physical distance between them by one of them moving to unoccupied and uncontested territory has been considerably reduced if not made totally impractical. Conflicts between groups virtually require resolutions, where both groups remain in place. This has led to evolving concepts and forms of governance involving the rights in people of groups, and the rights of people in groups.  The demand on resources to provide for both exponentially larger groups on planet earth combined with the demand for ever higher standards of comfort and well-being, pose considerable challenges to the concept of sustainable improvements in the human condition as well as to the preservation of the physical environment.
  3. Knowledge and technological development have been expanding in a manner that has almost outstripped all other areas of human advancement. The first major advance is conventionally called the agricultural revolution through which human kind began to move away from a nomadic hunter/gathering existence into settled communities engaged in subsistence farming involving the growing of crops and the domestication of some animals. With this advance came the creation of the first pubic space, the temple, and the first non-manual occupation, the priesthood. The timing of this advance is generally agreed at about 10,000 BCE. The second major advance was the revolution in agricultural productivity around 4000 BCE. With this revolution came the ancient cities, the creation of more non-manual occupations, the establishment of kingdoms, the invention of writing and schooling, the wheel, the metal plough, the ox-drawn plough and horse drawn chariots of war and the birth of recorded history. The third major advance in knowledge and technology was the industrial revolution, which began in the eighteenth century in England with John Kay’s invention of the flying shuttle that cut the time taken to weave cotton cloth in half. This was to be followed by Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, which cleaned cotton 50 times faster that the traditional methods. What this signalled was the move from cottage industries to factories as the major mode of manufacturing goods. The steam engine transformed transportation. The invention of electricity and the light bulb had an even more profound effect as well as such other inventions as x-rays, vaccination, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio and the internal combustion engine. In the second half of the twentieth century the fourth major advance has occurred with the convergence of the microchip, digital technology, fibre optics and satellite transmission. The dawn of the information age and knowledge society is upon us. Information and communication technology is in the process of transforming most facets of society including, work, worship, entertainment, transportation, communications, learning, schooling and government.

While each one of these areas of interacting factors changing society is of profound implications and impact in and of itself, when taken together they have rendered human society and civilisation of today almost unrecognisable by anyone who was born and lived in 10,000 BCE. However, it would be erroneous in the extreme if we held to the notion that all of the structures of human social organisation that were fashioned at the dawn of civilisation have disappeared. Many of the aboriginal features of human communities remain deeply embedded features of society, culture and political economy at the present time.



The demographic, ecological and technological factors have affected almost all aspects of society and civilisation. It is important to take a brief look at some of the directions of the changes that have been brought about and the interaction of these three sets of determining factors with respect to society, power and culture.


Societal Changes

In recognising that the new has not completely swept away the old and that conservation and change are bedfellows in human history, it is necessary to sketch the broad contours of the societal changes by summarising them in terms of polar opposites:


  1. From lineage society where tens of thousands of small autonomous patriarchal kinship communes lived in virtual isolation from each other, and spoke thousands of different languages, to approximately 200 nations, nine of which have populations in excess of 100 million persons and with five or six languages that could be described as being spoken globally.
  2. From lineage society in which the kinship collective was the fundamental unit of social organisation to nations in which the individual is the fundamental unit of social organisation.
  3. From lineage society predicated on rights in persons, any member of which could be alienated in the interest of the collective survival of the lineage, to nations guaranteeing the inviolable rights of each person.
  4. From government owned by an extended family, whose occupation was rulership of the commoners, to government by consent of the governed through constitutionally held elections by secret ballot that elect representatives that are accountable to those who elect them.
  5. From the purpose of life being the perpetuation of the line, preferably through the birth and survival of sons, to the purpose of life being individual material progress.
  6. From society based on intimate face-to-face contact as the main medium and channel of transactions and exchanges to impersonal and anonymous relationships mediate through machines.


The Nation-State and Civil Society


The scope of this Paper does not allow a full treatment of each of these polar opposites in highlighting the fact that aboriginal and modern features continue to co-exist in societies at the present time. It is instructive, however, to examine this coexistence in relation to the notions of the nation-state and civil society.  


Lineage society, comprised of isolated kinship communes, evolved into nations over several thousands years. (Smith 1987) maintained that the nation-state evolved by encompassing several ethnic communities in a single polity. The essential feature of ethnic communities is that they are composed of conglomerates of kinship collectives organised along patriarchal lines and claiming shared identity and common ancestry. Genealogy, gender and generation are the critical criteria defining and organising ethnic communities.


Invariably nation-states embody cities, countryside, diverse ethnic groups and different religions while claiming autonomy and sovereignty in its relations with other nations. That is, nation-states claim pre-eminence in allegiance and loyalty, over and beyond every other social and political entity. Almost without exception, nation-states are premised on the utopian values of equality, human rights, social justice, and consent as the foundation of government. Further, the fundamental unit of national organisation is the individual national, the citizen. Each citizen by virtue of nationality is entitled to equal treatment, enjoys the same rights, guaranteed the same justice and is empowered as an elector in determining the government. These utopian values are invariably enshrined in constitutional law. Further, the State has become the principal mechanism and chief executing agency of the values of nationhood.


In the nation, by virtue of its constitution, tribe, clan, caste, lineage, race and family are conceded as having only sentimental, nostalgic and cultural meaning. The family itself is reduced to a nurturing unit stripped of its political and economic relationships that surrounded kinship collectives in previous civilisations. On the other hand, non-kin forms of association have positive political, economic and social meaning. These include the State replete with parliament passing laws, courts dispensing justice, military establishment and police force providing security, and civil service bureaucracy administering public policy. Outside of these are the political party, the corporation, the trade union, the school, the club, the lodge and the church.  All of these are constitutionally and legally required to practice the utopian values on which the nation-state is predicated. They ought not to exclude persons on the basis of family background or race, gender or age.


At the same time, civil society within each nation carries the legacy of tribal, clan and lineage society. Kinship allegiance, clan honour, perpetuation of the lineage and patriarchal obligations continue to be the supreme values to a greater or lesser degree. In several societies the notion of kinship has been transposed to race, with the same assumptions of blood bonds, group solidarity and mutual obligations as in lineage society. In all versions of this type of society the family, organised on patriarchal traditions, remains the fundamental unit of social organisation.


The social reality of nation-states, therefore, is that of civil society organised on the basis of kinship, clan honour, perpetuation of families, patriarchal authority and filial obligations and the State predicated on the utopian values of equality, human rights, social justice and representative democracy in which sovereignty rest with the people. Further, civil society presumes the family to be the basic unit of organisation while the State is organised on the individual as the fundamental unit of its constitutional structure.


The national project, by definition, consists of transforming civil society from its ethnic roots, kinship structure and patriarchal traditions into nations in harmony with their constitutions mandating utopian and transcendental values espousing equality, justice, rights and consent. Indeed, the mobilisation of the nation-state resides in the implementation of the utopian values of nationhood. It must be noted that the promise of material progress implied in nationhood, particularly to the mass of the dispossessed groups, has added yet another element of meaning to the values on which nationhood is premised.


The point that must not be overlooked is that the formation of nation-states has neither been the inevitable result of social evolution nor the wholehearted embrace of the high ethical vision of nationhood. Nation-states have all been constructed through the processes of dynamic interaction among groups within civil society, where one or two groups become the ‘chief nationalists’. While leading the construction of the nation on the utopian values of equality, individual rights and social justice enshrined in constitutional law, the ‘chief nationalists’ invariably skew the construction of the nation in their image and garner substantial advantages to the groups of civil society to which they belonged. In this context the state, controlled by the ‘chief nationalists’, becomes the major instrument of constructing the nation in the image and to the advantage of particular groups in civil society. The greatest promise for the success of the national project, and threat to its realisation, resides in the moral conduct, or lack of it, from those groups claiming and exercising leadership in the implementation of the mandate of nationhood.


It is this tension between efforts to construct nations out of civil society rooted in ethnicity and kinship and the acquisition and consolidation of advantage by those groups leading the construction of the nation that several important societal transformations have been effected. The essence of the transformation is from kinship to non-kinship forms of association and organisation. The national ideal and creed is that nationals of all families and ethnic groups within the nation should have equal rights to participate in the parliamentary affairs of the state, to receive equal justice through its courts, and have equal access to the bureaucracy of the State including the civil service, military establishment, police force, schools and colleges, and statutory bodies. Further, all nationals, irrespective of family or ethnicity, should be free and unencumbered to become members of political parties, religions, corporations, trade unions, clubs and all other non-governmental organisations operating in the public sphere.


The practical reality is that the inequalities of civil society organised on the basis of kinship and ethnicity, and the asymmetry of the power implied in this inequality, are not automatically swept away by applying the national creed. Some of the factors fuelling resistance to the full implementation of the national project can be listed as follows:

  • The efforts of those groups in civil society that previously held power, commanded considerable resources, were accorded high esteem and whose culture dominated the society, to retain at least some of their former positions within the nation.
  • The attempts of the newly empowered groups, not only to lead the construction of the nation, but to consolidate their position in the society and nation. Indeed, the democratisation of political power has invariably brought about more upward social mobility of those controlling and administering the machinery of the State than by the mass of the people themselves.
  • The formation of alliances between the old and the new guard, to their mutual benefit, which are at variance with the utopian values of nationhood.


At the end of the nineteenth century great faith was placed in the belief that the State could correct many of the ills rampant in civil society at that time. At the end of the twentieth century there is disillusionment with the State and calls for non-government organisations and civil society to become the new saviours. In this regard we have come full circle over the course of the twentieth century. However, we have not come back to square one. Largely because of the corruption that has resulted from those in control of the State apparatus using state power and machinery to look after their own – ethnic group, party, religion or whatever – many nations have begun to implode as the state has collapsed either partially or totally. Of the nearly 200 nations forty-three are in crisis as a result of the partial or complete collapse of the State. Even in some countries in which the State continues to be in control of most areas of the nation, there are some areas in which alliance have to be struck with de facto leaders in some localities even for enforcement agencies to operate in those areas. In almost every nation government is under pressure to downsize its operations, to decentralise decision-making, to deregulate, to make all of its processes more transparent and to allow higher levels of citizen participation.


On reflection, the state and civil society are not exclusive of each other. The nation-state represents the direction and the content of the changes that have been evolving over the history of civilisation driven by demographic, ecological and knowledge/technology factors. Civil society contains the residue of the aboriginal structure of society as it was created in the special circumstances of antiquity. The two remain in dynamic interaction with each other. At the beginning of the twenty-first century there is great ambivalence and ambiguity about the nature and the future course of this interaction. However, the efficacy of civil society appears to be on the rise. In the course of the last hundred years the problem has become the solution.


Changes in Power Relations and their Generation and Gender and Outcomes


The societal changes outlined have not only had profound implications and impact on the nature and structure of society but also on the structure of power and on political economy. Three broad shifts in the nature of power can be readily identified, [Miller, 1991 #2].


First, changes in the location of power. Small autonomous patriarchal kinship communes consisting of less than 100 persons exercised sovereign and final authority over their members. Power was internal to the group and therefore private. As kinship communes amalgamated into clans, clans into tribes, tribes and clans into kingdoms and kingdoms into nations more and more of the powers of the kinship commune has been transferred from the private sphere of the commune to the public sphere of the clan, tribe, kingdom and nation. For example, the power to take life was once held by the head of the household. In the course of time this shifted to the chief of the tribe, to the king and finally to the courts of the nation. With the shift in power to the public sphere is the shift in responsibilities. The kinship collective has been progressively stripped of its power, authority and executive responsibilities. Ritual defence is the responsibility of a priesthood or clergy. Physical defence has been divested to the military and police. Subsistence and occupation is now assigned to the economy and labour force in which there is no necessary succession between generations. Education and training is the responsibility of schools and colleges. The only responsibility that remains with the kinship collective is that of nurturing and socialisation of the young and mutual emotional support among its members. Major decision-making relative to much of living rests with the State through its machinery including parliament, civil service and the courts.


Second, changes in the distribution of power. When small isolated autonomous patriarchal kinship collectives exercised final authority in most matters, power was highly decentralized. With the amalgamation of communes into clans, clans into kingdoms and kingdoms into nations, power has become increasingly centralized. In the former circumstances many persons exercised final authority over relatively few people. In the latter circumstances fewer and fewer persons are exercising final authority over more and more persons. Ironically, as the process of the centralization of power has continued apace, empowerment of people has been a popular cliché. This is testimony of the fact that in many aspects of human society is that particular values are oft highlighted at the very time they are being eroded or lost.


Third, shifts in the idiom of power. The fact is that power invariably exists in two basic modes, personalistic and materialistic. Power in the personalistic mode is directly and transparently linked to the one exercising it. It is open, honest, chivalrous and undisguised even as it is ruthless and brutal. Power in the materialistic mode is exercised and mediated through intermediaries and things. It is covert, disguised, almost anonymous and often impersonal. In the ancient past power was marked much more by the personalistic than the materialistic idiom. In more modern times power is much more marked by the materialistic than the personalistic idiom. The mechanisms of the materialistic idiom of power are parliaments and its massive array of laws; public and private bureaucracies and their heavy reliance of regulations and rules; courts their reliance on procedures and precedents, and markets manipulated by buyers and sellers. In the materialistic idiom it is easy to blame intermediaries, for the powerful to sympathise with their victims and claim innocence and for ordinary individuals to feel hopeless and unable to influence any outcome.


The point that must not be missed with respect to the changes in the power relations is that on the whole their impact has been different for men and women. In the origin construction of society elder males of the kinship commune exercised final authority in ensuring the survival of the group. In this patriarchal arrangement men were centralized and women marginalised. Because age is mutable, younger men were treated as the heir of the older men. This mitigated the marginalisation of younger men who, given the prospect of succession, would usually wait their turn. Women’s marginalisation however, was more permanent.


As power has shifted from the private to the public sphere and become centralized in fewer and fewer hands, many men have lost the prospect of succession. The shift in both the location and distribution of power have resulted in many men being marginalised although male socialization continue to be based on the old patriarchal assumptions of male authority as protector of and provider for the kinship collective and in society generally.


Another critical point that must not be missed is that the changes in the structure and organization of society and the shifts in the location, distribution and idiom of power are not taking place in isolation but rather in dynamic interaction. Hence it is the older men of those ethnic and social groups holding power in society that can continue to operate under the old patriarchal assumptions. Likewise it is the males of those ethnic and social groups that have been historically disadvantaged in particular societies that are being increasingly marginalised.


In many instances it is these young men, as young bucks, who have resorted to the personalistic idiom of power using violence as the main means of establishing their authority within certain localities. It is in this context of the interaction between changes in societal and power relations that violent territorial gangs of young men, often competing among themselves for dominance, need to be understood.


The situation with women on a whole has been different. Most women have marginalised from antiquity. The shift and changes in power relations have not had the same negative effect as it had with many men. On the contrary the democratization of opportunity in the nation-state has provided unprecedented opportunities to women in education, occupation, income and ownership. They have created a positive and assertive psychology among many women, especially from the historically disadvantage ethnic and social groups within society to energetically and enthusiastically grasp and benefit from the opportunities that have become available.


Many women who previously had to rely on men for their well being, and who sought to ensure and secure themselves through having children for these men inside or outside of marriage, can now liberate themselves form this age old cycle of dependence by grasping educational opportunity, translating educational credentials into employment opportunities and income sufficient to ensure a measure of economic independence. Traversing this new path to economic independence involves delaying child bearing and having few children than women in previous generations or of contemporaries who did not make the grade in schooling.




Society organised on the basis of the lineage or family as the basic unit of social organisation insisted on marriage and heterosexuality as the norm and the production of children as the prime purpose of sex. This is not to say that homosexuality and sex for pleasure was not always are part of human experience. The shift to the individual as the basic unit of social organisation and material advancement as a principal purpose of life has considerably weakened marriage as an institution and prized widen open the doors on homosexual relationship. Further, sex for pleasure, without the production of children is now the norm, even in the marriage relationship. So powerful is this image of sex that it theme of a large volume of advertising and being sexy is of one the finest compliments paid to man or women, including the clergy.




No discussion of changes in power relations can confine itself only to shifts occurring within nations and society. It is imperative to briefly examine power relations as they have changed and shifted between societies.


From the sixteenth century religious empires began to give way to nation-states from China to Austria via Turkey and the Vatican. In the emerging nation-states religion retreated in the face of the crusading advance of science as revelation yielded the high ground to reason as the prime basis for interpreting, understanding and explaining human origin, experience and actions. At the same time the geopolitical centre shifted from the East to the West, from the Mediterranean to Europe, as the Iberians completed their connection of the several different worlds that for the most part had operated in varying degrees of isolation from each other. These transformations have changed civilisation fundamentally.


At the beginning of the twenty first century religious empires have long disappeared. Close to 200 nation-states replete with flags, anthems and national pledges now litter the globe. These nations now belong to an increasing array of global organizations created in the twentieth century. These include the United Nations and its agencies – UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Court of Justice and the most recently the World Trade Organisation. Indeed, almost every profession and religious body are a part of some international association drawing membership from across the globe. Never before has there been greater connectedness between the peoples living on planet earth.


While all nations claim sovereignty, with equality of passion, they are not by any means equal in the ability to prosecute their own interests. Some nations are far more equal than others. Size of population, size of economy, size and strength of army are all dimensions of inequality in the global market place of nations. Representation in the various world bodies reflects this inequality. In the United Nation in which all nations are supposedly equal, while all nations are members of the General Assembly only a limited number sit on the inner sanctum of the Security Council. Five nations have permanent seats on the Security Council and possess the right of veto.


Yet it is not in the political global forums that inequality is most marked but rather in the financial and trade institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO. Stripped of all the trappings, it is the creditor nations with the largest economies that determine the terms of trade and the conditions of lending. It is their power that runs things. These nations set the price of their goods and services to the other nations and also set the prices at which they will buy from the rest of nations. Debt is almost the inevitable consequences of these unfavourable terms of trade. To turn the screws even tighter the conditions sets for loans invariably involve conditions that increase the access of the lending nations to the markets of the borrowing nations. At the same time all kinds of non-tariff barriers block or highly restrict access to the markets of the lending nations.


The most perverse part of the exercise of geopolitical power is its modus of claiming the moral high ground, its assertions of competence and its assumptions of superiority of management and administration. In clothing naked power in the jacket of morality, the pants of competence and shirt of superiority of management and administration then the victims of the exercise of that power are blamed for causing their plight by virtue of their corruption, incompetence and mismanagement. It is little wonder therefore that in the first flush of the globalisation of trade, of financial markets, and banking systems there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich nations.


These aspects, issues and outcomes of the globalisation phenomenon are sufficiently well known and some often articulated that they should not detain us in this brief sketch. What is most important to note is that the shift in power from the private to the public sphere, the centralization of power and the changes in the idiom of power taking place with nations and societies are not unrelated to the political economy of globalisation.


The Business Week Magazine of April 24, 2000 critiqued the globalisation phenomenon from an American perspective in the aftermath of the protests and riots at the WTO meeting in Seattle, Washington. The main elements of that critique were as follows:


The positive side of globalisation is that:

  • Productivity grows more quickly when countries produce goods and services in which they have a comparative advantage.
  • Global competition and cheap imports keep a lid on prices, thus keeping inflation low.
  • An open economy spurs innovation through fresh ideas from abroad.
  • Export jobs pay better than other jobs.
  • Unfettered capital flow gives the United States and other countries access to foreign investment and this keeps interest rates low.


The negative side of globalisation is that:

  • Millions of jobs are lost and the new jobs created pay less, on average.
  • Millions more fear losing their jobs, especially at those companies operating under competitive pressure.
  • Workers face pay-cut or wage freeze demands from employers who often threaten to export their jobs if they do not comply.
  • Service and white-collar jobs are increasingly vulnerable to being moved overseas.
  • US employees can lose their comparative advantage when companies build advanced factories in low wage countries, making those workers as productive as those in the US.


Against this background there is great anxiety among ordinary American citizens that globalisation could result in them losing their jobs. Further such citizens feel that the US policies in support of globalisation favour big companies and not their employees. The major unions in the US claim that unfettered trade allows unfair competition from countries that lack labour standards. Also environmental groups claim that elitist organisations such as the WTO, World Bank and IMF made undemocratic decisions that undermine national sovereignty, environmental regulations and bail out foreign leaders at the expense of local economies and ordinary citizens in the less developed countries.


As I read this article, and its explanations as well as its reports of the main arguments of unions, environmentalists and those taking up the cause of the less developed countries, paradoxes emerge as several voices and arguments can be discerned and they are by no means of one accord.


The voice of self-interest of American workers and citizens is loud and clear and appears to be the bedrock of the political opposition to globalisation that appears to be emerging in the US. But clearly audible also are sounds of unfairness and therefore immorality that is being associated with globalisation. Then there are whispers of opposition to transferring advanced technology to less developed countries and advocacy for the globalisation of labour and environmental standards.


What appears to be most outstanding, however, is the growing feeling that globalisation is for the benefit of big companies and their managers, in particular, and to the distinct disadvantage of the vast majority of American employees who either face loss of jobs or lower paying jobs. This sentiment is by no means peculiarly American. The protests in Seattle, Washington, Washington D.C and Europe appear to signal new twists to globalisation. Probably these are early signs of the globalisation of protests and resistance against globalisation.


There can be little question that the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO have acted in ways that are to the distinct advantage of the countries that direct their policies and programmes. In this regard they have been servants of the wealthy nations. Yet it is citizens from within the countries that have been the main beneficiaries of the globalisation process that militant protest and opposition have arisen. While these protestors may have included concern for the poorer countries in the rhetoric of their opposition to these organisations, this is little more than window dressing compared to their main concerns of self-interest.


The point is that the small potato farmers that are being driven out of business in the United States may almost be in a similar position to the potato growers of Christiana but the former are looking to their government to secure great access to overseas markets, while the latter are looking to the Jamaican government to keep out Idaho potatoes. The point that may be missed is that it may be the large corporate entities in agriculture that are hastening the demise of both sets of farmers albeit of different nationalities.


In other words, in the first full brush with globalisation it would appear that those controlling the pinnacles of the economies in both rich and poor countries have been able to form mutually beneficial alliances. At the same time, those adversely affected have been unorganised and have relied on governments for their protection.


If the issues were only those of economic productivity and comparative advantage then Jamaica Broilers should be able to export chicken meat to the United States. The barriers to chicken meat breaking into the American market may only be lowered if American corporations buy into Jamaican companies. Similarly, Europe and the United States should have abandoned the growing beet and sugar cane, respectively, and come out of the production of sugar. However, the political clout of the French and German farmers and the influence of the US corporations engaged in sugar production will hardly allow the decision to be made purely on economic grounds.


It remains to be seen whether the political actions of small farmers disaffected in the poor countries will have similar political effects and even if some political consequences are forth coming whether this will make any difference in the global political economy.  


Indeed, at the beginning of the twenty first century the notion of the nation-state has fallen in some disrepute, as globalisation has become almost the only game in town.




The great changes in culture over the course of the twentieth century have come about through adaptation to technological advancement. Anyone who went into suspended animation 1900 and awoke in 2000 would, after coming out of shock, need to make fundamental adjustments to her/his lifestyle with respect to changes brought about by technology. This would be true in relation to ground transportation, air travel, communication, telephones, television, cooking, entertainment and practically any facet of life that we could think of. Making these adjustments could be a matter of life and death particularly if that person lived in Kingston and no one restrained her/him from wandering out into the street, without being advised of the pervasiveness, speed and reckless movements of that quaint contraption called the automobile.


If one understands and examines culture from the perspective of its wider definition as the way of life and mores of a people, it is not difficult to relate cultural changes to adjustments and adaptation to technological advancement. For example, as taxis, trucks and buses have become the main elements of transportation of people and goods replacing carriages and other animal drawn vehicles several occupations have been dramatically contracted or virtually disappeared including that of the saddler. In their place are new occupations of taxi, bus and truck drivers, operators of heavy-duty equipment, electricians, and telephone technicians. These have become strategically important occupations in the emerging middle class. This class while not having the education achievements, social background and speech patterns of members of the traditional middle class comprised of doctors, lawyers, ministers of religion, nurses, teachers and accountants in many instances have similar income, almost comparable lifestyles and identical values. In a nutshell technological advancement in the twentieth century has brought with it opportunities for social mobility and the formation of new social and political classes. Indeed, it is technology advancement that has created the phenomenon of the social conservative blue-collar worker

In this regard, special mention must be taken of the development of local popular music and its spread as a genre of popular music worldwide. Technological advancement in sound technology opened up new possibilities for musicians. Exploring the potential of the base notes they created variations on the rhythms of mento and kumina that evolved into ska and reggae.  Combined with the poetry of resistance emanating from a Rastafarian perspective and coupled with the charisma of Marley and Tosh Jamaican popular music has penetrated the world and in the process created an indigenous music industry that has had no government subsidy or international donor assistance. At the same time, it has not only spawned cultural changes related to music and religion but also created social mobility opportunities for marginalised males that have been of their own making.


Information And Communication Technology And Culture

In the course of 30 years computers have been transformed from specialised instruments used by scientists in laboratories to the ubiquitous component of an increasing array of machines. Everything is becoming smart including lights, engines, ovens, doors, gates, books, toys, and the list goes on and on. The impact and implications of computers for culture rest on at least four pillars:


  • As computers become faster, easier to use and more powerful they have also become smaller, more affordable, in need of less specialised care and therefore more widely used. The spread of computers from laboratories to homes, offices, shops and factories has been nothing short of spectacular.
  • Integrated with digital technology, fibre optics and satellite technology the computer has revolutionised communications with respect to the volume, speed and cost at which personal, corporate and government information can be transmitted, received and responded to.
  • The computer has become an almost essential tool of learning, work and entertainment. Indeed one can learn to work through computer-mediated instruction and be entertained as the same time. No institution of learning or place of work or source of entertainment can resist the imperative to introduce computers into some aspects of their operations.
  • The computer has become the symbol of progress, modernisation and advancement.


It’s the combination of the computer’s pervasiveness as an instrument of learning, a tool of work, a means of entertainment, a channel of communication and a symbol of progress that has placed computers and information and communication technology in the midst of cultural transformation. This makes it almost impossible to understand the new environment without including technology as a primary consideration. If there is one thing that will be taken as certain of the future and of Jamaica in the twenty-first century is that technological change will continue apace.


The point is that computers and the new information and communication technology have fundamental implications for culture because they come with their own built-in culture. Some of the main elements of this built-in culture of computers and information and communications technology are:


  1. Turning on, sitting down and having a one to one relationship with a machine. It this regard the computer takes on a persona and a private and even faithful relationship with the individual, replete with idiosyncrasies that betray involvement with third parties.
  2. Standardisation, common platforms, uniformity of operations and conforming to the specifications of the operating systems, application or systems logic.
  3. Impersonal and even anonymous interactions with the outside world.
  4. Instant or almost instant response, which creates its own definition of time and timeliness that are much faster and shorter than was previously the case.


There are several points at which computer culture is at variance with traditional culture. While computer culture requires standardisation and does not require personal relationships, traditional culture lionises individual style, wide variations in behaviour and personal and intimate relations. Computer culture assumes almost instant response.  Traditional culture is closer to Jamaican ‘soon come’ in the time allowed for replies. These differences constitute points of resistance if not resentment in the adaptation required to use this new technology. While initially the concept of the personal computer attempted to address issue of individual style, preferences and freedom, the paradigm of the network is strongly tilted toward uniformity and conformity. This is but the recent manifestation of the perennial tension that exists between individuality and community.




To effectively locate missions in the new environment it is important to take a brief look at the past, particularly the era of great Baptist missionary ventures. Baptist origins date back to the seventeenth century and its formation in the crucible of radical Protestantism. It survived as a small dissenting sect during most of the eighteenth century. The late eighteenth century was a period of great social and political ferment marked historically by the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, and English Radicalism. In the wake of these momentous social and political stirrings came the great evangelical revival asserting that nominal Christianity was not sufficient in the contest that was occurring for the hearts and minds of people. Only a re-birth in Christ, authentic Christian living and engagement with the issues of the day could provide the Christian response to the challenges of the times.


Catherine Hall states that William Carey, and a few other Baptist Ministers, became convinced that the nation had become warm in politics but cold in religion. Heathens at home and abroad had to be won for Christ and that required that an army should be mobilised for this cause. The Baptist organisational action resulting from this spiritual re-awaking was the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792 in Kettering, the small Northamptonshire shoemaking town. It was the first missionary society to be formed in England, later to be followed by the inter-denominational London Missionary Society and the Church Missionary Society, of Anglican vintage.


Underneath these social, political and spiritual movements was the outworking of the industrial revolution. Old villages were in the process of becoming new towns as manufacturing grew and the export of products exploded. Artisan occupations escalated in range and expanded numerically. Mercantile enterprises blossomed and flourished leading to increased in wealth. In the processes new social classes emerged whose origins and values were different from the landed gentry, established priesthood and aristocratic elites. The social base of the dissenting sects came mainly from the mushrooming artisan occupations with smaller contributions from among merchants, manufacturers, shopkeepers, professional men and farmers. The women of these classes predominated numerically although the men occupied the leadership positions.


While the religious convictions and denominational orientation of these new classes were by no means monolithic, and many became members of the established church, the vast majority of the members of the dissenting, non-conformist, denominations were from these new classes. The prevailing social prejudices were distinctly against the new arrivants to enhanced social status and improved standards of economic well-being. They did not have easy access to the privileged places of the established elites. As would be expected these new social classes became engaged in carving out their own place in the mainstream of society and their own forms of respectable society. Included in the mix was moral outrage of many of the members of the new social classes with respect to the lifestyle and sins of the established affluent elites.


Thomas Burchell, James Phillippo and William Knight all has social origins in the new social classes and the towns in which these classes were spawned. Burchell was born into a mercantile family that was well established by the time of his birth. Phillippo, born in 1798, was the son of a master builder and was brought up Anglican. He was attracted to the dissenting Baptist despite the social prejudices that were rampant against these groups. Knibb, born in 1803 in Kettering, was the son of a tradesman. He and his older brother were apprenticed to the Baptist minister in Kettering, who was also the Secretary of the BMS. Knibb was the quintessential progeny of Baptist heritage. Born in family with no aristocratic pedigree, brought up Baptist in the town in which the BMS was founded and mentored from an early age by the Secretary of the society. His social origin was totally consistent with the radical tone and content of his interpretation and execution of his missionary activities in Jamaica.


Converting the heathen at home and abroad brought Baptists and the BMS up against the issue of slavery, as it was contested at home and abroad, in the Caribbean. There was no neutral ground. The battle lines were clearly and sharply drawn between the BMS and their missionaries on the one hand and the planters and the sugar interests on the other hand, at home and abroad. These dividing lines were real and had social and lifestyle; spiritual and value orientation, and economic and work antecedents. Whether it was planter and missionary in Jamaica or BMS officials and the sugar lobby in England there was no question that they were on opposite sides of the religious, social and economic fences.


Catherine Hall declares that Burchell, Phillippo, and Knibb were among the first white men that came to Jamaica whose primary interest was not acquiring wealth or administering the Crown’s interests. It is no wonder that the Baptist mission of converting the heathen in Jamaica translated into preaching and ministering to the slaves. The missionaries by virtue of their social background and ideological orientation were disqualified from being effective conveys’ of the gospel to the planters and their supporters.


If we are to learn from the past, and from this glorious period of Baptist history, it is clear that missionary enterprise does no arrive in a social, political and moral vacuum. The missionary imperative comes to the fore when the issues facing society are grave. In the competition and contest for the hearts and minds nominal Christianity is not enough and Christian identify must be recognised in terms of lives lived with a Christ-like character. This of necessary means engagement with the political, social and moral issues of the times in circumstances that afford almost no neutral ground. The success of missions is integrally related to engagement in the grave issues of the day while taking sides with the excluded, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed. As Burchell, Phillippo and Knibb came to find the call to mission resulted in engagement with momentous issues, involvement in great conflicts and taking risks in circumstances of real peril.


The romance of missions is front-loaded. It is to be found mainly at the time of the recognition and response to the call, in the days of preparation and in the early periods of engagement. The reality of the long haul is sacrificial self-giving despite the vicissitudes of the journey, and remaining committed to the end. Take the case of the much celebrated James Phillippo: missionary, author, social engineer of free villages including Sligoville and eloquent defender of the emancipated. As a child he loved Robinson Crusoe. As a young Christian he became fascinated with missions. As a young minister he became convinced that his destiny was on the mission field. On his arrival in Spanish Town he did not find it too difficult to withstand the hostility of the planters, or the harassment of being repeatedly dragged before the courts, or the social slights of the elites. More difficult was the personal pain surrounding the lost of three babies of his wife, Hannah, in three years. Almost shattering was his public removal as the pastor of the magnificent chapel, seating 1500, which he had built in Spanish Town. The unkind cut was that his removal was at the instigation of a fellow missionary, Thomas Dowson, who he had left in charge while on sick leave in England. Yet, Phillippo remained in Jamaica until his death in 1879 as a champion of the emancipated and a defender of their cause. Jamaica became his home and that of his wife and three sons, one of whom became a planter. Ironically, Dowson is forgotten and Phillippo is remembered by the name of the chapel from which he was removed, forcibly and humiliatingly.




There is no reason to believe that Mission in the new environment will be structurally and fundamentally different from the past although the context and the text may be different. At the base will be the prompting of the belief that in the contest for the hearts and minds of people only rebirth in Christ and authentic Christian living will provide meaningful answers to the false premises of the contending choices. Action arising from this spiritual urging will of necessity confront the political, social, economic, cultural and technological imperatives of the times. Engaging in mission will entail decisive involvement with imperatives. Those who dare enter into missions will find themselves in conflict with vested interests, confronting the status quo and in company and cahoots with the dispossessed and the excluded. Indeed, the situation will be no different from the times in which Jesus lived, will require the same manner in which he walked, be surrounded by the same resistance and resentment that he encountered, result in similar crucifixion and hopefully culminate in the experience of resurrection.


Errol Miller

November 27, 2003