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Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 26.1 (2006) 16-21

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Globalization and Place

Debates about globalization have continued to rage passionately over many years amid myriad contradictory events that have taken bewildering form in the wake of the Cold War. Globalization is understood as the geographic extension of exchanges and, moreover, as the expansion of the domain of exchange itself: not merely merchandise but also capital, labor, services, intellectual property, and, more amorphously, cultural patterns of identity interwoven with political strategies and discourses. While the first aspect—for example, the intervention of technical progress in the domains of transport and communication—is clear and established, the second aspect involving the transfer of discursive views and related political practices is either underanalyzed or veiled behind cognitive approaches that are either textually overdetermined or simple reproductions of "cherished" old modernist "certainties." At the same time the immanent reality of these global sea changes has indicated a considerably transformed political terrain and "civil society" in which both ruling myths and perhaps the very meaning of being modern are brought starkly into question and placed at stake. For example, the degree of this transformation is hinted at by ongoing debates concerning the status of the nation-state as a locus of political orientation and cultural identity. When London was recently bombed by English people in the name of neither a nation nor a clear ideology but rather a nebulous international atmosphere that is regularly called al-Qaeda, what was glimpsed again were the lethal and horrific implications of these debates on the level of real life for the "modern condition." Yet the name al-Qaeda is misleading in its projection of an organization onto what is rather something like a "way of working" and an "affinity" with only the loosest tenets of ideological coherence, to say nothing of religious traditionalism. This collection of essays therefore presents a range of intellectual approaches aimed at achieving a clearer and more precise understanding of these phenomena, by carving out a terrain of ideas that tries to make sense of existing conditions—and not merely in their more spectacular manifestations but equally on the broader and diffused level of everyday reality. This is possible only through a framework of analytical pragmatics that involves an ongoing and interactive engagement with the world of practices that are inhabited together daily and internationally and, above all, with an appreciation for a shared reality of fundamental vulnerability. There is necessarily an ethical component to this conceptual structure in the sense of both investing in norms for a sustainable and pragmatic pacifism for everyone as well as responding with humanity and intelligence to any disaster that might come about: the two are very much interdependent. The problematic of considering and reconceiving inherited notions of globalization and geography has been chosen therefore as the broad focus of this investigation.

Geography is a received intellectual convention very much implicated in the struggles over political power that have given shape to the contemporary world of modernity. As area [End Page 16] studies geography is traditionally the analysis of particular combinations realized by the unity of elements within a more or less extended area, or region. In the interconnected context of globalization these elements are interdependent both in their structure and more generally in their spatial distribution. Demographic behavior in migration, the distribution of modes of exploiting finite and renewable resources, as well as production, transformation, and exchange including networks of transport and flows of goods are the traditional terrain of human geography. This terrain also includes geopolitics, which investigates the spatial distribution of power and the transformation of territorial enframements, that is, empires and nation-states, with the corresponding political formations and linguistic or cultural conflicts that are involved. This investigation implies a very interested view of the world as a mosaic of regions subordinated, with more or less force, to nation-states within their respective territories. Today the singularly interested gaze of political power that animated the traditional geography of European colonial hegemony is irreversibly fractured, with...


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