- Reviewed by
I have lived in the US for almost a decade. In that time, I’ve heard Americans use the term “local” to describe their travel experiences abroad as tourists, business entrepreneurs, exchange students, and foreign scholars. These innocuous acts of self-definition carry with them a touch of US-centrism. The term “local” is applied to non-US culture and cultural practices, which are understood in terms of an American standard or way of life. In these cases, there exists a veiled [End Page 393] (sometimes un-self-conscious) attempt to establish the American way as the normative, naturally acceptable way of experiencing life and society. What ideological labor is involved in this repetitive narrative act? In her book, Dislocalism: The Crisis of Globalization and the Remobilizing of Americanism, Sarika Chandra explores this question.
Chandra argues that while globalization has threatened to render the “local” obsolete, at least in theory, the US promotes American-centric views of world order by continuing to exercise hegemony and to manufacture consent in world affairs. It involves training future business leaders, disseminating American popular culture, institutionalizing American theoretical paradigms in literary studies work, and appropriating world cuisine. Chandra calls this process “dislocalism,” where the threat of the erasure of the local as a de jure category in the global/local binary is nullified by rhetorical and ideological stances that install “America and Americanism” as the de facto “national-ideological center of gravity” (4). In chapter 1, Chandra shows how American management theory has responded to the anxiety of this theoretical erasure by using American literature and American exceptionalism to train future business leaders in Organizational Strategy and International Development Management. In chapter 2, she argues that scholars in the field of immigrant literature employ dislocalism as a rhetorical strategy to deflect attention from specific socio-historical realities of immigration, while paying lip service to the expression of immigrant identity. In chapter 3, she shows how twentieth-century travel writing dislocalizes the experience of traveling outside the US as an act of narrating the nation by default. Food tourism, the subject of chapter 4, goes even further by playing on the lack of a substantial US national cuisine through the ready appropriation of food from other nations and thereby affirming an American identity through this melting pot experience.
I found chapters 2 and 4 the most thought provoking. In chapter 2, Chandra claims that immigrant/ethnic studies scholarship promotes a specific “version of the real as global” (99). By that rhetorical move, the US is understood implicitly—and propagated to its (academic) readership—as an antiseptic space shielded from the horrors of the Third World. Chandra shows how scholarship on Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991) and Diana Abu-Jaber’s Crescent (2003) dislocalizes the novels’ critical purchase by portraying non-US locations as naturally prone to political insurgency and unrest, less hospitable to gender equality than the US, the latter becoming by default, an open, “more free,” and an exceptionally “enlightened” nation (111). She exposes how, in both novels, border-crossings into the US are portrayed as acts of human progress and emancipation. According to Chandra, such knee-jerk reactions dislocalize the [End Page 394] historical experiences of immigrant characters by ignoring the realities under which such immigrant identities are produced in the first place. Her readings restore the historical and material specificity of US hegemony to show the conditions under which gender and ethnic identity paradigms are themselves products of a “historically specific form of society” (91).
In chapter 4, Chandra delves into the dislocalism practiced by the world of food tourism to show how, in the wake of standardization of American cuisine, the US fusion cuisine industry redraws national borders by maintaining the lack of an authentic American food tradition. She looks at Ruth Riechl’s Endless Feasts (2002), the magazine Food & Wine, and Food Network’s A Cook’s Tour to show how they “participate in globalism by attempting to position themselves as both local/national and global...