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  • Transnationalism and Anti-Globalism
  • Johannes Voelz (bio)

The recent resurgence of nationalism in the United States finds expression in a whole vocabulary, made up of slogans, rallying cries, and buzzwords. Most prominent among them may be "Make America Great Again" and "America First," but there is another buzzword—anti-globalism—which is particularly suggestive of the conundrum transnationalism faces in the Age of Trump. The term anti-globalism results from an act of rhetorical appropriation and resignification, and as I want to suggest, the idea of transnationalism plays an important role in this repackaging effort.

Anti-globalism recalls the anti-globalization movement of the 1990s and early 2000s, but this resonance brings out the differences rather than similarities between the two: where anti-globalization was concerned with a critique of the economic system, anti-globalism attacks what is perceived as a larger ideology of globalism that allegedly promotes free trade as well as cultural and racial mixing. From the view of the leftist anti-globalization movement, globalization was driven by the institutions that backed the Washington Consensus (such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the US Treasury), global corporations that exploited the waning sovereignty of nation-states, and national governments that colluded with the forces of global capital, for instance by entering into international free trade agreements, such as the North American Free [End Page 521] Trade Agreement. The targets of that earlier movement were therefore the profiteers and structures of economic globalization.

This economic understanding of globalization opened up a space for alternative conceptions of globalization that could compete with the economic version. It is no coincidence, therefore, that it was also in the late 1990s and early 2000s that the academic field of American Studies turned to the transnational as an emerging paradigm.

American Studies entered its transnational phase by engaging in profound soul-searching about the possibilities of altering the object of study seemingly prescribed by the field's name (see, for instance, Janice Radway's 1998 Presidential Address at the American Studies Association, titled "What's in a Name?"). Although rather diverse manifestos appeared in quick succession, there emerged a consensus that sticking to the nation form was a sign of ideological backwardness, whereas transcending the nation held out the potential for progressive change. From the get-go, transnational American Studies aimed to transcend the nation on two different conceptual planes: first, on the level of methodology, where transnationalism in essence meant adopting a particular perspective; second, on the level of the object of study, where transnationalism referred to phenomena that went beyond the limits of the nation. This blending of method and object of study meant in effect that the transnational wasn't something one could neutrally observe, describe, and chart. Rather, studying the transnational meant affirming the transnational. This is because the approval for the new method jumped over, as it were, to an approval of the phenomena studied. If, in other words, the transnational perspective of scholars was greeted as the successful overcoming of critical parochialism, then phenomena embodying the transnational were themselves to be commended. This valuation guided the choice of what was to be studied: Preferred objects included oppositional social movements that traversed national boundaries, aesthetic forms that traveled beyond the confines of the nation, and ideas that circulated in similarly unbounded ways (clearly, this list is not meant to be comprehensive). In short, transnational American Studies provided the opportunity to salvage a "globalization from below" (to use a phrase popular with the anti-globalization movement), and to favorably contrast it to both nationalism and economic globalization (or "globalization from above").

One of the problems faced—but rarely addressed—by proponents of transnationalism emerged from this differentiation of economic and cultural globalization. Did the idea that these two forms of globalization are principally different really hold up? Didn't both [End Page 522] visions of globalization rely on some of the very same images: flows (of goods, people, ideas) as something natural, borders and boundaries as artificial? Wasn't there, in fact, a deep affinity between the longing for cultural transnationalism and the ideology of economic globalization, despite the political differences that seemed to keep them both neatly...


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pp. 521-526
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