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Has globalization the phenomenon outgrown "globalization" the concept? In Distant Proximities, one of America's senior scholars presents a work of sweeping vision that addresses the dizzying anxieties of the post-Cold War, post-September 11 world. Culminating the influential reassessment of international relations he began in 1990 with Turbulence in World Politics, James Rosenau here undertakes the first systematic analysis of just how complex these profound global changes have become. Among his many conceptual innovations, he treats people-in-the-street as well as activists and elites as central players in what we call "globalization."
Deftly weaving striking insights into arresting prose, Rosenau traces the links and interactions between people at the individual level and institutions such as states, nongovernmental organizations, and transnational corporations at the collective level. In doing so he masterfully conveys how the emerging new reality has unfolded as events abroad increasingly pervade the routines of life at home and become, in effect, distant proximities.
Rosenau begins by distinguishing among various local, global, and private "worlds" in terms of their inhabitants' orientations toward developments elsewhere. He then proceeds to cogently analyze how the residents of these worlds shape and are shaped by the diverse collectivities that crowd the global stage and that sustain such issues as human rights, corruption, the global economy, and global governance.
Throughout this richly imaginative, fluidly written book, Rosenau examines how anti-globalization protests and the terrorist attacks on America amount to quintessential distant proximities. His book is thus a pathbreaking inquiry into the dynamics that lie beyond globalization, one that all thoughtful observers of the world scene will find penetrating and provocative.
"James Rosenau's book is no doubt his magnum opus, providing a detailed, multi-faceted analysis of globalization's complexities in an ever-shrinking world of uncertainty, change, and contradiction."--Cecilia Ann Winters, Journal of Economic Issues
AN EMERGENT EPOCH
[G]lobalization is bringing peoples closer apart and places further together.
- John Rennie Short1
The news on the state of the world is both good and bad. Each day brings word of a world inching slowly toward sanity even as it moves toward breakdown. And not only do these integrative and disintegrative events occur simultaneously, but more often than not they are also causally related. More than that, the causal links tend to cumulate and generate a momentum such that every integrative increment tends to give rise to a disintegrative increment, and vice versa. This intertwining of the good and the bad, the global and local, the public and the private, the coherent and incoherent-to mention only a few of the interactive polarities that dominate world affairs-is a central theme of the ensuing pages. It is a theme captured by the book's title, by the idea that what seems remote in the present era also seems close-at-hand, thereby compelling individuals and collectivities alike to cope continuously with the challenge of distant proximities.2
The same theme is implicit in the subtitle of the book. It does not refer to a new world order, an eventualworld government, or a colonization of Mars. Rather, the subtitle highlights the insufficiency of globalization as a concept with which to organize understanding of world affairs. Not that the concept is vague or simply a buzzword shorn of meaning by being applied to too many diverse circumstances. On the contrary, there are concrete, empirical dynamics at work that can properly be regarded as processes and structures of globalization. But all the dynamics are extraordinarily complex and require considerable nuance to comprehend their deeper implications and widespread consequences. Beyond globalization, in other words, lies conceptual equipment that, if used as a supplement to the analytic tools commonly employed to probe globalization, can substantially clarify, enrich, and expand our grasp of the course of events as the twenty-first century unfolds.3 Indeed, a central argument of the book is that the best way to grasp world affairs today requires viewing them as an endless series of distant proximities in which the forces pressing for greater globalization and those inducing greater localization interactively play themselves out. To do otherwise, to focus only on globalizing dynamics, or only on localizing dynamics, is to risk overlooking what makes events unfold as they do. As one cogent observer put it,
I use the local and the global as prisms for looking at the same thing. . . [I]t would be wrong to think that you either work at one or the other, that the two are not constantly interpenetrating each other. . . [W]hat we usually call the global, far from being something which, in a systematic fashion, rolls over everything, creating similarity, in fact works through particularity, negotiates particular spaces, particular ethnicities, works through mobilizing particular identities, and so on.4
Other analysts express a similar perspective by contending that
[g]lobalization and localization unite at all spatial scales. There is little, and maybe nothing, that is global that does not have some sort of a local manifestation. And each local manifestation changes the global context. Place centredness is the amalgam of global change and local identity. Every place reveals itself at a variety of scales. Local perceptions are shaped by global influences, the combinations of which process local actions. These in turn are fuelled by local aspirations, many of which are the product of global images and expectations. All these local activities accumulate to create chaotic but global outcomes.5
It follows, then, that a secure grasp of world affairs requires, at the very least, forming a habit of pausing to assess any distant proximities that may underlie or flow from the situations in which one is interested.
In so doing, however, one quickly discovers that distant proximities are not simple interrelationships, readily discernible and easily understood. Distant proximities encompass the tensions between core and periphery, between national and transnational systems, between communitarianism and cosmopolitanism, between cultures and subcultures, between states and markets, between urban and rural, between coherence and incoherence, between integration and disintegration, between decentralization and centralization, between universalism and particularism, between pace and space,6 between the global and the local-to note only the more conspicuous links between opposites that presently underlie the course of events and the development or decline of institutions. And all these tensions are marked by numerous variants; they take different forms in different parts of the world, in different countries, in different markets, in different communities, in different professions, and in different cyberspaces, with the result that there is enormous diversity in the way people experience the distant proximities of which their lives are composed. Whatever the diversity, however, locating distant proximities at the center of our perspectives on politics enables us to avoid the disciplinary trap of maintaining an analytic separation between foreign and domestic politics, as is the case when international politics and comparative politics are treated as different fields of inquiry, with each holding constant the dynamics at work in the other.
To identify a variety of complex tensions and polarities, however, is not to imply that they necessarily involve zero-sum relationships. Many do have this characteristic, as is clearly indicated in the assertion that "the fundamental conflict in the opening decades of the new century . . . will not be between nations or even between trading blocs but between the forces of globalization and the territorially based forces of local survival seeking to preserve and redefine community."7 Yet, as will be seen, the tensions that sustain other polarities are nonzero-sum in character, with their globalizing dynamics serving to reinforce, or to be reinforced by, their localizing components. That is why distant proximities cannot be treated as simple relationships. They are rooted in complexity, in complementary as well as competitive processes.8
It follows that distant proximities do not revolve around the attentiveness of people to news from abroad. Even if the widespread preoccupation with worldwide terrorism after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon proves to be a temporary blip in a long-term pattern,9 to cite the numerous statistics depicting how little American media cover foreign developments and thereby sustain the parochialism of their audiences is not to negate the concept of distant proximities. Rather, the latter involve the foreign travel experiences of individuals and their friends, the messages they receive from relatives abroad, the ways in which their jobs are linked to or threatened by foreign trade, and a host of other word-of-mouth or electronic inputs that underlie the ever-greater interdependence of life in a shrinking world. Furthermore, while the parochialism of the American people may be considerable in terms of exposure to foreign news, the same cannot be said of counterparts in other countries, all of which have enough adjacent and regional neighbors to be continuously reminded of the proximity of distant events and trends. Nor may the parochialism of Americans return to earlier levels once the shock of the terrorist attacks has worn off. As one analyst put it three days after September 11, "This is the end: the end of an era, the era of our invulnerability. We will recover physically, even psychologically, but nothing will ever be quite the same again. A barrier has been irrevocably breached: a barrier against the world outside."10
To comprehend the nature and dynamism of distant proximities, clearly we need to explore both the phenomena viewed as distant and those considered proximate before assessing how the tensions resulting from their interactions play out in diverse contexts. To do so, of course, is to move beyond objective circumstances. Distance is not measured only in miles across land and sea; it can also involve less tangible spaces, more abstract conceptions in which distance is assessed across organizational hierarchies, event sequences, social strata, market relationships, migration patterns, and a host of other nonterritorial spaces. Thus to a large extent distant proximities are subjective appraisals-what people feel or think is remote, and what they think or feel is close-at-hand. There is no self-evident line that divides the distant from the proximate, no established criteria for differentiating among statistics or situations that are reflective of either the more remote or the close-at-hand environment. In other words, nearness and farness connote scale as well as space. Both are ranges across which people and their thoughts roam; and as they roam, they can be active in both geographic locales and scalar spaces that have been socially constructed.11 Each is a context, a "habitat of meaning,"12 a mind-set that may often correspond with spatial distance even as there are other scalar contexts that can make the close-at-hand feel very remote and the faraway seem immediately present.13
To ponder the nature and ramifications of distant proximities in a time of vast changes, therefore, is to consider what, when, how, and why people experience some dimensions of their lives and some phenomena in their perceptual space as marvelously or threateningly close. In some cases wide intersubjective agreement prevails as to the appropriate spatial classification; in other cases controversy is intense over where lines between the distant and the proximate should be drawn; and it is both the areas of consensus and the disputes they sustain that underlie the dynamism of distant proximities as they are experienced by both individuals and their collectivities.
Clarifying the Polarities
Having already mentioned several polarities, it is important to clarify their relations to each other and the sense in which they differentiate good from bad. Most notably, there is no necessary connection between the good-and-bad dimension of any of the polarities just noted. Some aspects of the several poles are desirable, and some are noxious. Globalization has both positive and negative features, as does localization, and much the same can be said about the coherence-incoherence and integration-disintegration polarities.14 Coherence and integration normally seem preferable to incoherence and disintegration, but it is not difficult to think of situations-South Africa during the apartheid era comes quickly to mind-with an excess of coherence that could benefit from a period of incoherence and disintegration.
In a like manner, nothing in the pages that follow should be interpreted as implying that the centralizing processes inherent in globalization are preferable to the decentralizing processes that accompany localization. It is all to the good when globalizing dynamics lead international organizations to concert their efforts against corruption or when corporations converge around new, more open attitudes toward environmental problems, but it is surely bad if states collude to ignore corrupt practices and corporations maintain their position that environmental threats have yet to be demonstrated. Similarly, it is all to the good when localizing dynamics lead to decentralizing processes in which opposition voices are encouraged and democratic practices expanded, but it is surely bad if these processes result in a fragmentation that tears communities apart and facilitates the rule of petty tyrants.
In short, more so than in the past because time and space have been so rapidly compressed, we live in an era of pervasive contradictions that give rise to polarities subject to diverse normative judgments. Such evaluations cannot be avoided, but they can be explicated as one works through the contradictions and interprets their implications. In this way there ought be no confusion over the normative stance that underlies any empirical conclusions the analysis yields. Depending on the consequences to which they give rise-whether they elevate or denigrate individuals or groups-distant proximities can be viewed as expressive of a trend that portends future progress or one that points toward retrogression. In the case of some distant proximities, of course, their consequences have still to become fully manifest, and their normative implications thus remain correspondingly obscure.
Since distant proximities encompass polarities that are bound to take inquiry beyond globalization, it would be a mistake to view them as little more than a means of analyzing the processes and dynamics of globalization. Conceived in this larger context, globalization is but one component of the transformative dynamics that underlie the emergence of a new epoch in the human condition. It is, to be sure, a major component, but all too many analyses suffer from treating it as the primary component and thus risk underplaying the complexity of the emergent epoch. There is a need, for example, to recognize that localization is also a powerful force at work throughout the world, that cities, provinces, and other subnational groups are also seeking to realize their goals, that by 2030 some 60 percent of the world's people will live in cities, and that consequently localization is multiplying the range of policy environments as globalization shrinks the world.15 We live in a messy world, one that is marked by sharp contradictions comprehensible only through nuanced analysis that accords significance to numerous forces that can-and often do-undermine, limit, or otherwise redirect globalizing processes.
Violins offer a useful metaphor for distinguishing between previous epochs in world affairs and the complexities of the one that is presently emerging. Just as a poorly built violin halts and dampens the sound of each note, confining it to its own limited frequency and ceasing as soon as the bow leaves the string, so has the world in earlier epochs tended to retain the effects of events locally, muffling their impact on other systems and restraining their duration. In contrast, the expansionary, enduring character of distant proximities in the present global system is analogous to a good violin. Every note triggers a series of overtones that resonate with the remaining strings through the body of the whole instrument, both amplifying and sustaining the sound. In the case of the violin it is the difference between mere sounds and music; in world affairs it is the difference between international politics and dynamics beyond globalization.<<br>
Excerpted from Distant Proximities by James N. Rosenau Excerpted by permission.
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