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Basque Cyberculture: From Digital Euskadi to Cybereuskalherria

Author: Andoni Alonso, Iñaki Arzoz
Publisher: University of Nevada, Reno: Center for Basque Studies, 2006
Review Published: May 2006

 REVIEW 1: Loykie Lominé

Basque Cyberculture: From Digital Euskadi to Cybereuskalherria, by Andoni Alonso and Iñaki Arzoz, is an academic textbook originally written to support a course on Basque cyberculture offered at the Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno. Consequently, it follows a logical, pedagogical structure, with twenty short chapters of eight pages on average; each chapter ends with further references (both "Required reading" and "Internet resources") as well as questions (under the heading "Written lesson for submission"). Some of the questions are actually interesting beyond the topic of the book itself -- one question, for example, asks: "To what extent does cyberculture follow the North American neo-imperial model?" (150). Each chapter adopts a different perspective (e.g. Basque techno-science in chapter 4, new Basque literature in chapter 10) contributing to the multidisciplinary approach promised in the Preface: "Cultural studies, anthropology, literature, architecture, and popular culture will all be examined to contextualize Basque culture -- the local -- in the global, outlining the principal features of a cyberculture that is truly glocal" (7).

Despite its origins, this is not just a book to teach or study Basque cyberculture in an academic environment: It is an informative resource to learn about Basque culture and cyberculture in general, and to learn about Basque cyberculture in particular. Put another way, the reader learns not only about Basque cyberculture (for example about the role of online courses of euskara, the Basque language, and about the works of Basque cyberartists such as Ana Múgica and Xabier Idoate), but also about wider topics pertaining to Basque history (including the Basque diaspora and the separatist political movement) and about critical theorizing of globalization and the internet (with references to a wide range of scholars from Jean Baudrillard to Umberto Eco via lesser known thinkers such as Federico Krutwig and Javier Echeverria). This shows the three main strengths of the book: firstly, the integration of description and analysis (as we do not have just a mere description of Basque cyberculture but a cogent, coherent, scholarly study of its roots and possible futures); secondly, the balance of theory and practice (as the authors use both facts and concepts to interpret the current state of Basque cyberculture); and thirdly, the contextualization of Basque cyberculture (not taken in isolation but within a complex macro-environment influenced by social, economic, political, technological and philosophical factors).

Around three million Basques currently live in Europe; the Basques do not have an independent country to call their own, the Basque land euskadi being divided between Spain and France. Taking into account the Basque diaspora, with Basque communities in countries such as Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and the United States, the global Basque population may be estimated at around six million (though it is difficult to establish precisely, bearing in mind that only a minority of Basques speak Basque). On that basis, Alonso and Arzoz's work is an attempt at proposing how a geographically widespread ethnic minority can create and recreate itself culturally through the Internet. They map and conceptualize current practice, for example, with regard to Basque newsgroups, virtual communities, and cultural organizations that have a presence on the Internet. This leads them to articulate their vision of a fluid, non-political Basque digital entity harnessing and encompassing all Basque cyber-projects. The movement suggested by the subtitle of the book (From Digital Euskadi to Cybereuskalherria) refers to that celebratory widening of Basque cyberculture, as proposed in the last chapter which literally finds "a true cultural cybernation" (160). Cybereuskalherria is described as "a real Basque utopia, free and open, with neither borders nor political institutions" (161), generating its own "hyperidentity [which is] not the palimpsest of different identities, but rather the common ground for the range of identities of Cyberbasques" (164). This interesting proposition may have wide-reaching implications beyond the Basque (cyber)culture itself, as the model could arguably apply to other cultural groups and sub-groups, although Alonso and Arzoz do not mention the potential transferability of their model.

All along Basque Cyberculture, Alonso and Arzoz provide both theoretical and empirical evidence to convincingly sustain their argumentation. Their treatment of Basque politics is neutral, which is not easy when addressing that sensitive topic. For many people, the word "Basque" will conjure up references to ETA and its terrorist activities [1]. The authors do not ignore the nationalist agenda and its impacts (it is covered in chapter 15 entitled "Basque violence"), but they take distance from it as they explain that their Cybereuskalherria is not a political entity in any partisan sense: it is "a non political nation" (162), it transcends minority politics and related subjects of dissension such as governance and linguistic hegemony. Their Cybereuskalherria is plurilingual: Basque cyberculture can equally be expressed in Basque, English, French, and Spanish, which is possible because of its transvernacular status. Cybereuskalherria can be distinguished from (digital) Euskadi as Euskalherria (literally: the land of the Basques) is a glocal territory: it has local elements (referring to the Basque land in France and Spain) as well as global ones (referring to the diaspora). The dialectic of the local and the global frames the whole argument of the book -- it is actually mentioned on its first page and also on the last one. The local is very local (Euskadi is roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island), the global is very global (thanks to the Basque diaspora), and Basque cyberculture creates a bridge between the two, which legitimizes the use of the concept of glocality. Interestingly, the book itself reflects this dialogue of Euskadi and the diaspora, as it was printed in America by the University of Nevada yet "with generous financial support from the Basque government" (4).

The academic background of one of the authors (Professor Andoni Alonso) is in philosophy; he is a specialist of the philosophy of technology, which transpires in the solid theoretical underpinning of the book (with references to philosophers such as Karl Popper and José Ortega y Gassett) and in his love of concepts (including (post)modern ones such as "netizen," "transvernacular," and "digitalist nationalism"). That conceptual creativity, justified by the need to use new words to name new phenomena, may run the risk of alienating some readers though, as not everyone will enjoy discussions about "techno-hermetism" or "hyperpolitics" [2]. This gives the text a literary edge but it might be detrimental too: just as they denounce the fact that "Cyberamerica's techno-hermetic digitalism is a bizarre mixture of science fiction, technoscience and Gnostic American religions" (146), one could accuse some chapters of the same textual sins: some passages are hard to fully comprehend, with a writing style occasionally reminiscent of cyberpunk literature. The book ends with a very long index (28 pages) yet without a glossary, which could have helped to elucidate some key notions.

In conclusion, with a sense of urgency as "the Euskadi of the 21st century will be a digital one or it will not be at all" (18), Basque Cyberculture: From Digital Euskadi to Cybereuskalherria is an excellent case-study of "the re-creation of an ethnic identity by transvernacular forces as a sort of active survival against transforming globalization" (88). It illustrates the anthropological potential of the Internet and it offers a blueprint for other small-scale studies of cybercultures as empowering, dynamic environments. In their last chapter, Alonso and Arzoz explain how Cybereuskalherria as a real cybernation thrives on all digital texts which are about the Basque culture, the Basque language, or the Basque people -- in that perspective, this online book review itself is, in fact, part of Basque cyberculture.

  1. At the time of writing (late March 2006), the Basque separatist group ETA has just announced a permanent ceasefire which would bring to an end to a 38-year armed conflict which has claimed more than 800 lives in Spain. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4839554.stm.

  2. To be fair, these concepts are partly explained in the text. For example, "The transvernacular offers a way by which hyperphilosophy can help produce a Basque cyberculture, both in the Basque country and in the diaspora, linking them into a single glocality that has several disctinctive features: post-modern, fragmentary and sometimes erratic" (13). However, such explanations require readers to be familiar with a range of conceptual perspectives, from postmodernism to theories of globalization.

Loykie Lominé:
Dr. Loykie Lominé works at the University of Winchester (England) where he is Programme Director for an MA in Cultural and Arts Management. He has published on a range of subjects about French and Francophone culture, from the global success of Tintin to contemporary queer Canadian literature. In his leisure time, he learns foreign languages -- currently Arabic and Polish, and, who knows, Basque might be next.  <Loykie.Lomine@winchester.ac.uk>

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