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  • Introduction:Area Studies, Diaspora Studies, and Critical Pedagogies
  • Ato Quayson (bio)

Neil Smith opened his keynote address to the first East Asian regional Conference on Alternative Geographies in Korea in 1999 in this way:

Since the 1970s, the relatively stable geography of postwar capitalism has been thrown in the air and has fallen about like so many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Most if not all our assumptions about the geographical ordering of the world, from the local to the global scale, are now obsolete, and we find ourselves in a period where theory and political organization have to be reinvented together in order to match new circumstances. The most urgent task today, and one that broadly occupies most human geographers, is trying to put the pieces of the global jigsaw puzzle back together, both conceptually and in practice—trying to discern geographical coherence (or lack thereof) of an emerging political and economic order.1

The metaphor of the geographical puzzle is one that Smith has reworked a number of times, and he returned to it again in a more arresting fashion at the colloquium on area and diaspora studies at the University of Toronto in 2006: "The pieces that went up were the nation state and regions, and the ones coming down are multi-units and multiple."2 The shift in the metaphor is significant. In the second usage the pieces have not yet fallen down to earth: they are only now in the process of doing so. Furthermore, since they metamorphose as they fall to earth the second use of the spatial metaphor suggests that some radical change is taking place, the direction of which is not entirely clear to the observer. At issue in both inflections of the metaphor is ultimately a crisis of interpretation, highlighting the need for critical sensitivity in coming to a sense of the complexity of the world today. [End Page 580]

Consider also Benedict Anderson's remarks linking exile and nationalism in an essay of 1993.3 Anderson suggests in his piece that the condition and sense of "exile" is the most productive locus for understanding nationalism in nineteenth-century Europe. He notes that this exilic sense was generated essentially along three axes, namely, urbanization and the feeding of big industrial cities with labor from the countryside (e.g., Manchester in the 1840s); education and its implications for social mobility and restratification; and print capitalism and the circulation of images and ideas. Though Anderson's remarks pertain specifically to the formation of the industrial nexus within Europe itself, the processes he speaks of may in fact be projected onto a wider global scale and seen to have been speeded up from the second part of the twentieth century onward. "Exodus," the title of the essay itself, is noteworthy for transposing a well-known metaphor of dispersal/diaspora onto the particular context of internal European population movements that took place at the height of industrialization. The analogy implied between dispersal and diaspora is one that Khachig Tölölyan takes up in his piece for this issue, arguing out that not all dispersals amount to diasporas. Anderson's point about urbanization in the period is also pertinent.

Whereas Anderson focuses on the international migrations within Europe that were to mark the processes of industrialization, in "Planet of Slums" Mike Davis argues that the fate of the world is not so much a movement toward cities as a movement toward slums.4 His prognosis makes for sober reading: 95 percent of population expansion by 2015 will have occurred in the urban areas of developing countries, whose population is set to double to nearly 4 billion over the next generation. Given their clear incapacity for providing amenities for this burgeoning population, most of these cities will consign their arriving populations to slums. Davis suggests that the implications are dire not just for the organization of urban spaces but for the kinds of political sensibilities that will emerge. To him these slums are likely to produce a massive urban proletariat that will turn not to Marxism for its conscientization but to radical forms of Islam and Pentecostalism. Though his analysis is not to be taken lightly...


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pp. 580-590
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