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Globalization and Transnationalism

Page history last edited by tess.porter@colorado.edu 9 years, 10 months ago



Table of Contents





Main Points

     Globalization is the accelerating interdependence of nations in a world system linked economically and through mass media and modern transportation systems.[1]Often synonymous with Transnationalism: extending or going beyond national boundaries[2], globalization involves the diffusion or exchange of custom, media, technology, finance, and ideas through specific points of departure and arrival and works to promote change and development in our world in which nations and people have become increasingly interlinked and mutually dependent.[3]  Although globalization and transnationalism may not seem mutually exclusive in some contexts, transnationalism is the term of choice when referring, for example, to the migration of nationals across the borders of one or more nations.[4]In many instances transnationalism becomes an agent of globalization. For example, as Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson state, farmers that spend half the year in Mexico and half in the USA are using Transnationalism to increase Globalization.  In this instance, transnationalism is simply reffering to crossing of national borders by the farmers who are working in compliance with another nation for a certain gain. As a result, the favored outcome is the interlacing of social realtions 'at a distance' with local contextualities, or globalization.[5]  In this case, transnationalism is a vehicle of globalization.[6]     


     Recent anthropological research acknowledges both the point of departure and the point of arrival are in a constant state of cultural flux, making the search for steady points of reference exceedingly difficult.[7]Moreover, the preconceived notions of isomorphism and border-oriented culture are giving way to the idea of culture as fundamentally fractal and overlapping. In many cases, globalization and global interactions create tension between cultural homogenization, emulation or acculturation towards a multitude of foreign influences, and cultural heterogenization, or maintaining the traits and integrity of the "initial" culture. Although cultural homogenization, often associated with Americanization and commoditization, may be a legitimate concern in some instances, it is important to note that the fears of homogenization can be exploited by nation-states in relation to their own minorities, by posing global commoditization ( or capitalism, or some other external enemy) as more real than the threat of its own hegemonic strategies.[8]Furthermore, as the spread of media and technology increases in speed, quantity, and influence, states find themselves pressed to stay open to these forces that have fueled consumerism throughout the world and have increased the craving, even in the non-Western world, for new commodities and spectacles.[9] To elaborate further, these forces of globalization function through, and are maintained by, international commerce, travel, tourism, transnational migration , the media and other forms of technology.[10]


     It is also important to note that unlike many other theories, Globalization and Transnationalism are modern theories, so they are still being studied, constructed and critiqued.  Because of this, we cannot assume that anything said about Globalization and Transnationalism is completely definite, as it still could change in the upcoming years. One could speculate about the ultimate possibility of Globalization and Transnationalism leading to a "global village", which Marshall McLuhan worried about in the 1960s[11], just as one could hypothesize that culture is fundamentally fractal and overlapping, and despite the rapid influence of Globalization and Transnationalism, there will always be the diversity of local contextualities. Either way, these theories are a work in process.



Key Terms:


Global Village - Marshall McLuhan's term for an increasingly interconnected society[12]

Isomorphism - a large-scale cultural shift to an identical or similar form, shape, or structure [13]

Homogenization - the act of blending (diverse elements) into a uniform mixture [14]

Heterogenization -  To keep separate or diverse (opposite of Homogenization)

Commoditization - To make a product into a commodity [15]







Key Figures




Benedict Anderson

      Benedict Anderson is considered one of the pioneers studiers of nationalism, a concept he believes has developed over the past three centuries but grew exponentially during the post World War II era.[18]  Benedict was born August 26th, 1936, in Kunming, China to parents James O'Gorman and Veronica Beatrice Mary Anderson.  In 1947, Benedict and his family moved to California where he had his first experience with formal education.  Benedict received a Bachelor of Arts in Classics from Cambridge University in 1957.  While at Cambridge, Benedict developed an interest in Asian politics, possibly influenced by his childhood spent abroad in Asia, and later enrolled in Cornell University's Indonesian studies program.  It was here that Anderson met Indonesian political experts and co-founders of Cornell's Modern Indonesia Project, George Kahin and Claire Holt, who guided him through his Ph.D. studies.[19]  For part of his doctoral research, Anderson traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1961.  His time in Indonesia allowed him to witness the rise of the Communist Coup and the subsequent massacres in 1965, a topic that he would later write about in his 1966 "Cornell Paper", a paper that would lead to him being exiled from Indonesia indeterminately.[20]

     After his exile, Anderson continued to study in the Asian Pacific where he continued to develop his notion of "nation-ness."  Upon finishing his research, Anderson moved back to the US where he became a Professor of International Studies at Cornell.  During his time teaching at Cornell he wrote several books including his most famous piece Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (1983).  In Imagined Communities, Anderson speaks about the rise of nationalistic identities and argues that they are directly tied to the invention of the printing press and other forms of mass communication.[21] 

     Today, Anderson is still a Professor of International Studies at Cornell, and has also assumed the director role of Cornell's Modern Indonesia Program, the program started by his mentors George Kahin and Claire Holt.[22]







Marshall McLuhan

      Declared a "media guru" and "the oracle of the electric age" by Life magazine, Marshall McLuhan's insights and lessons are sought after by anthropologists, journalists, businessmen, and presidents alike.[24]  In his prime he was nothing short of a celebrity, as articles on McLuhan lined newsstands in magazines ranging from Playboy to Mademoiselle to Partisan Review.[25]  On more than one occasion his advice was sought by campaign assistants of Richard Nixon, who consulted him on their candidate's use of the media in his presidential campaign.[26]  Despite his celebrity status and insights to famous individuals, McLuhan is known for his illustrious teaching career at several universities, where he famously challenged his student's concepts of reality, hinting that "if the world really did seem to be dismal, it was perhaps because all of us were very far from perceiving it as it really existed."[27]

  Marshall McLuhan, christened Herbert Marshall McLuhan, was born on July 21, 1911 in Edmonton, Alberto, Canada, to father Herbert McLuhan and mother Elsie McLuhan.  His father was a member of the Canadian Military so Marshall spent much of his childhood traveling through Canada with his family.  In 1928, McLuhan entered the University of Manitoba where he received both a B.A. (1932) and a M.A. (1934) in English.  Upon graduating Manitoba, he continued his studies of English at Cambridge University, where he received a second B.A. (1936), a second M.A. (1939), and a Ph.D. (1942), all in English.[28]

     After Cambridge, McLuhan taught English at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) from 1936-1937, St. Louis University from 1937-1944, Assumption University (Windsor, Ontario) from 1944-1946, and St. Michael's College, University of Toronto from 1946-1979.[29]

     During his teaching career, McLuhan was most famous for teaching about the emergence of what he called the global village.  The global village concept is based around the idea that as the world becomes increasingly interconnected by technology cultural differences begin to dissolve as electronic media replaces oral/aural communication.  As put by McLuhan, "Today, after more than a century of electronic technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as out planet is concerned."[30]

     McLuhan's greatest concern was that mankind was moving towards the 21st century with what he saw as the "shackles of 19th century perception."[31]  And until his death on December 31, 1980, he continued to challenge his students and readers to cast off those shackles and embrace the globalization of the 21st century.


To learn more about Marshall McLuhan visit his website: http://www.marshallmcluhan.com/



Key Texts



     Unlike earlier anthropological approaches, such as Functionalism or Cultural Evolution, globalism and transnationalism are broad in perspective and tend to accumulate in the overlapping of multiple subtopics. With such a wide range of topics, there has been a proliferation of diverse texts related to globalization. However, two texts that are key to globalization and transnationalism include Arjun Appadurai's Modernity At Large: The Cultural Dimensions of Globalization and Beyond Nature: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference by James Ferguson and Akhil Gupta.[32]



Modernity At Large: The Cultural Dimensions of Globalization by Arjun Appadurai

      Published in 1996, Modernity At Large: The Cultural Dimensions of Globalization is a book by cultural theorist Arjun Appadurai that focuses on the cultural aspect of globalization, especially in recent decades. In chapter two, an essay titled Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy, Appadurai argues that globalization is not a new phenomenon and that “large scale interactions” between societies have consistently occurred in the world, especially in the form of warfare and religious conversions. Because globalization is not new in practice, Appadurai explains the recent impact of globalization by paralleling the changing forces of globalization with a gravitational field.[34] Appadurai grants “gravitational force” to three global changes: colonialist expansion, Benedict Anderson’s idea of “print capitalism”, and the sudden increase of technological advances. Colonialism and “print capitalism”, or when people began to read the same texts and digest the same ideas without requiring face-to-face communication, act as the basis for what Anderson names “imagined communities."[35] More recently, significant technological advances, especially in transportation and information, have allowed for the creation of communities with a greater degree of “no sense of place” then ever before.[36]

     Therefore, Appadurai argues that what has distinguished recent changes in globalization is the use of the “imagination as a social practice."[37] Benedict’s “imagined communities”, or historically rooted worlds formed through an imagination shared between people all over the globe, are now “organized fields” that negotiate between individual agency and “globally defined fields of possibility.” Appadurai coins five terms that build a framework for globalization in the sense of the imagined world:[38]

  1. Ethnoscapes: the actual people who live in the modern and changing world

  2. Technoscapes: the movement and increasing speed of technology

  3. Mediascapes: the ability and ways to spread information and create images that often blur the line between real and fictional worlds

  4. Financescapes: global capitol

  5. Ideoscapes: political ideologies that center around the ideal of the Enlightenment, especially on democracy

The overlapping of these various ‘scapes’ creates a new model of fluid and complex global relations and marks a shift away from the center-periphery model.[39]

     Furthermore, Appadurai alludes to a tense relationship developing between the nation and the state in a global context. The flow of media and mass migration of the state no longer aligns with the flow of the nation due to an increase in deterritorilization, or dislocation of people from their native land and the crossing of national boundaries. Since imagined communities lack the formal boundaries that demarcate a state, cultural practices must now be viewed as fragmented, rather than bordered or structured. Appadurai also suggests that mass media has affected western understanding of primordialism. He argues that western nations are beginning to view some Eastern European countries as primitive, violent, and unchanging. This view is the product of mass media that allows for western nations to imagine certain circumstances that differ from reality.[40]  Finally, Appadurai addresses the future of anthropology in a global context by suggesting that traditional anthropological questions are asked in the realm of “chaos” and “uncertainty” that align with the shifting global world rather than “structure” and “order.”[41]  



Beyond Nature: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference by James Ferguson and Akhil Gupta

    Published in 1992 in an issue of Cultural Anthropology, Beyond Nature: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference by Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson looks at the idea of space in globalization.  Societies, such as countries, are distinguished by a division of space.  People easily believe that these states have their own culture, so words such as “social” or “culture” are added onto country names.  They talk about how they are going to travel to India to experience “Indian culture” or “Indian society”.  [43]  But the reality is that its not that easy to make that simple a division, as cultures expand across geographical boundaries.  "Space itself becomes a kind of neutral grid on which cultural difference, historical memory, and societal organization are inscribed.  It is in this way that space functions as a central organizing principle in the social sciences at the same time that it disappears from analytical purview”. [44]  Ethnographic maps try to rectify this by showing culturally unified groups and their territories.  However, these maps don't account for people who live on national boundaries or those who cross borders.  It also doesn’t account for differences in culture within boundaries, the hybrid culture of post-coloniality, or change in interconnected spaces.[45]  Space is not gone, but is “reterritorialized”.  The idea of bounded culture and communities has been overturned because of global distribution.  It is no longer dependent on a space with face-to-face contact.[46]
    With Diaspora, the "offspring of an area who have spread to many lands"[47], we can no longer map the globe as a set of distinctively defined cultures within a specific region.  The movement of people and culture does not simply create simply cultural homogenization: a uniform culture created by a blend of the cultures that entered into the space.  Because of this, the authors note that we need to pay attention to the “bifocality” of some cultures.  Many tend to still relate to the lands that they came from as their “homeland”, and think of them as symbols for their culture, even though they may not reside there anymore.[48]  The authors also discuss how spatial meanings are established, who has the power to make places of spaces, who contests this, and what is at stake.  One needs to challenge two “naturalism” truths: 1) taking a cultural group and their territory as naturally linked, 2) associating citizens of states and their territories as natural.  
    The authors then go on to talk about cultural critique and the problems with it.  Anthropologists, often unintentionally, use words like “home” and “abroad”, “here” and “there” when describing the relation between two cultures to create a critical view of their own culture.  But this is based on the assumption that the world is full of many, distinct cultures.[49] There are two problems with this.  First: who is “we”?  World is an “interconnected social space”, so what does “we” really mean?  And second, by using phrases like “our own society” and “the other” to describe another culture, we are nativizing it and placing it in a separate sphere to look at it critically.  But because of globalization, these cultures aren’t as separate and distinct as they are made out to be.
    According to the authors, an alternate, better way of looking at cultural difference is to question the “radical separation” between the two that created the opposition in the first place.  One needs to look at the production of these differences in a “world of cultural, socially, and economically interconnected and interdependent spaces”.  This is globalization.[50]
    In their conclusion, the authors list a few areas that are worth looking into to get a better grasp on the effects and importance of globalization.  Borderlands are a zone of displacement and deterretorialzation, causing hybridizations of culture that are worth studying.[51] Another area is mass media.  Mass media transcends “orthodox notions of culture”, being national, regional, and village boundaries.  It is an important form of cultural exchange.[52] One needs to consider space not just as deterritorialzed, but reterritoralized.  And finally, the authors state that physical territory isn’t the only way to map cultural distances.  A better way would be to map it by class, gender, race, or sexuality.[53]




     As Globalization and Transnationalism are becoming more prominent realities across the world, the Anthropology of Globalization has tried to come up with new ideas and methods to research the ways that cultures are becoming universalized. Through this process, the practice of using Multi-Sited Ethnographies was developed and is slowly becoming more popular because it allows Anthropologists of Globalization and Transnationalism to study multiple cultures by way of ethnographical research and find connections that these cultures share. However, many critics have come forward to explain the problems that Multi-Sited Ethnographies pose for anthropological research. 


Critiques of Multi-Sited Ethnography

     Multi-Sited Ethnography suggests that because of the diaspora that takes place in the globalized world, one cannot focus on just one area for an ethnography, because they will miss the cultural views of people residing in other areas, but still practicing aspects of their original culture, such as migrant workers or immigrants.  While this can offer an interesting view, globalization and transnationalism's affects of cultures spread across the world, the question has to be raised of what the true anthropological value of a multi-sited ethnography really is.  If an anthropologist expands his or her field site to include places across the world, can they really claim to have investigated these cultures in depth?  It would seem as though, once they exit the traditional site of the culture in question, the anthropologist is instead investigating small subcultures within the context of other cultures.  Also, it is important to consider that "Japanization may be for Koreans, as Indianization for Sri Lankans, Vietnamization for the Cambodians,"[54] may be far more worrisome than Americanization.  Non-western cultures have been interacting and participating with one another in cultural homogenization since long before the modern globalized world, so it would seem that even when field sites based in a specific area that would have been considered 'central' to the culture of study, those boundaries were actually somewhat arbitrary because there is no area specific to just one culture, or that can encompass the entirety of a culture.  Most cultures have never been completely heterogeneous to one another -- at least within the history of anthropology -- globalization theory has just accentuated that fact and brought it to the forefront of the anthropological mind.  So instead of utilizing multi-sited ethnography, it may be more prudent for an anthropologist to acknowledge the ways in which a field site may affect and alter an ethnography, and analyze what those say about the history and current practices of the culture in question.


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