- From the Editors: The Global Condition:When Local Becomes Global
Antiglobalists, just as neoliberal proponents of globalization, debate globalization as a distinct reality (whether abhorrent or highly desirable). Perhaps, on some level of abstract social theorizing, this is a legitimate assumption, but the logic of historical thinking makes this realist imaginary seem analytically unproductive. “Historical” does not necessarily mean “genealogical” (or worse, teleological). Unlike purely theoretical models that can treat a phenomenon as a “simple thing” – equal to itself and with clear boundaries – historical analysis of the imperial situation is all about context. Historical context is anything but a side dish to the main course: it is the syncretic (seamless and unstopping) continuum of reality, even though it is often represented by eyewitnesses as ruptured and disjointed, from which scholars carve out chunks of “facts,” “processes,” and “structures.” Any two historians have different ideas about the configuration of the “main course” they prepare in their studies, even when they call it the same. In this logic, a discussion of “globalization” is meaningful only inasmuch as a particular aspect of the broad historical context is analyzed: a specific type of interactions that transcend physical or social boundaries, or a situation of contact or an imagination that consciously aims to transcend the immediate horizon. Of course, this immediately brings up the main historical problem: who identifies these boundaries and the criteria of localism and how, and by what means is the temptation avoided to treat some boundaries (individual [End Page 9] and local) as more authentic and others (collective and transterritorial) as artificial. Thus, the most interesting and truly productive questions about the global condition are not “Who is a beneficiary of globalization?” or “Has globalization gone too far?” but “When does it make sense to speak about globalization?” and, most important, “How does local become a global?”
These questions are central for the 2017 annual theme of Ab Imperio, “The Global Condition: Local Names for Universalism,” which is inaugurated with issue 1/2017 “When Local Becomes Global: Agencies and Subjectivities in Imperial Context.” The “Methodology and Theory” section of this issue of Ab Imperio features an interview conducted by Alexander Semyonov with Sebastian Conrad, author of the book What Is Global History? published by Princeton University Press in 2016. The interview continues the Ab Imperio series Conversations with Authors in which the journal presents new relevant books for the development of new imperial history and the theory and history of understanding nationalism, empire, and diversity. Quite pertinently, Conrad warns against the common mistake of equating the global with the all-embracing. He also offers an overview of the rapidly evolving field of Global History as an approach aimed at restoring the broad context of historical process. The cognitive or constructivist turn in Global History announced by Conrad allows for meaningful comparisons between the logic of his field’s evolution and the development of new imperial history.
From the latter vantage point, the seemingly clear juxtaposition of “local” to “global” seems an utterly mechanical approximation of a dynamic dialectical process, wherein local communities and pockets of local knowledge become integrated into global structures, which, in turn, manifest themselves only through the coherent interplay of particularist social groups. This formula may sound too abstract, but this is how historical empires are depicted in the thematic forum “Subjecthood and Belonging to the Polity in the Russian and Ottoman Empires” in the “History” section of this issue. Put together by Dina Rizk Khoury and Sergey Glebov, the forum focuses on the secret of imperial cohesion that seemed to be forsaken by the rapidly nationalizing Ottoman and Russian regimes by the turn of the twentieth century. The truly global structures of the two empires were formed and sustained as irregular (although quite rationally designed) agglomerations of local communities defined as such according to several taxonomies: of regions and social statuses, confessions and economic specializations.
One can think of the emerging mode of imagining the polity as a homogeneous community of conationals or citizens with equal rights as an instance of the local becoming global. Specifically, the new notions of [End Page 10] political community emerging from the time of the French Revolution became a yardstick for...