by Arjun Appadurai

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Edited by one of the most prominent scholars in the field and including a distinguished group of contributors, this collection of essays makes a striking intervention in the increasingly heated debates surrounding the cultural dimensions of globalization. While including discussions about what globalization is and whether it is a meaningful term, the volume focuses in


Edited by one of the most prominent scholars in the field and including a distinguished group of contributors, this collection of essays makes a striking intervention in the increasingly heated debates surrounding the cultural dimensions of globalization. While including discussions about what globalization is and whether it is a meaningful term, the volume focuses in particular on the way that changing sites—local, regional, diasporic—are the scenes of emergent forms of sovereignty in which matters of style, sensibility, and ethos articulate new legalities and new kinds of violence.
Seeking an alternative to the dead-end debate between those who see globalization as a phenomenon wholly without precedent and those who see it simply as modernization, imperialism, or global capitalism with a new face, the contributors seek to illuminate how space and time are transforming each other in special ways in the present era. They examine how this complex transformation involves changes in the situation of the nation, the state, and the city. While exploring distinct regions—China, Africa, South America, Europe—and representing different disciplines and genres—anthropology, literature, political science, sociology, music, cinema, photography—the contributors are concerned with both the political economy of location and the locations in which political economies are produced and transformed. A special strength of the collection is its concern with emergent styles of subjectivity, citizenship, and mobilization and with the transformations of state power through which market rationalities are distributed and embodied locally.

Contributors. Arjun Appadurai, Jean François Bayart, Jérôme Bindé, Néstor García Canclini, Leo Ching, Steven Feld, Ralf D. Hotchkiss, Wu Hung, Andreas Huyssen, Boubacar Touré Mandémory, Achille Mbembe, Philipe Rekacewicz, Saskia Sassen, Fatu Kande Senghor, Seteney Shami, Anna Tsing, Zhang Zhen

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By Arjun Appadurai

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-2723-6

Chapter One

Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination Arjun Appadurai


Globalization is certainly a source of anxiety in the U.S. academic world. And the sources of this anxiety are many: Social scientists (especially economists) worry about whether markets and deregulation produce greater wealth at the price of increased inequality. Political scientists worry that their field might vanish along with their favorite object, the nation-state, if globalization truly creates a "world without borders." Cultural theorists, especially cultural Marxists, worry that in spite of its conformity with everything they already knew about capital, there may be some embarrassing new possibilities for equity hidden in its workings. Historians, ever worried about the problem of the new, realize that globalization may not be a member of the familiar archive of large-scale historical shifts. And everyone in the academy is anxious to avoid seeming to be a mere publicist of the gigantic corporate machineries that celebrate globalization. Product differentiation is as important for (and within) the academy as it is for the corporations academics love to hate.

Outside the academy there are quite different worries about globalization that include such questions as: What does globalization mean for labor markets and fair wages? How will it affect chances forreal jobs and reliable rewards? What does it mean for the ability of nations to determine the economic futures of their populations? What is the hidden dowry of globalization? Christianity? Cyber-proletarianization? New forms of structural adjustment? Americanization disguised as human rights or as MTV? Such anxieties are to be found in many national public spheres (including that of the United States) and also in the academic debates of scholars in the poorer countries.

Among the poor and their advocates the anxieties are even more specific: What are the great global agencies of aid and development up to? Is the World Bank really committed to incorporating social and cultural values into its developmental agenda? Does Northern aid really allow local communities to set their own agendas? Can large banking interests be trusted to support microcredit? Which parts of the national state are protectors of stakeholding communities and which parts are direct affiliates of global capital? Can the media ever be turned to the interests of the poor?

In the public spheres of many societies there is concern that policy debates occurring around world trade, copyright, environment, science, and technology set the stage for life-and-death decisions for ordinary farmers, vendors, slum-dwellers, merchants, and urban populations. And running through these debates is the sense that social exclusion is ever more tied to epistemological exclusion and concern that the discourses of expertise that are setting the rules for global transactions, even in the progressive parts of the international system, have left ordinary people outside and behind. The discourse of globalization is itself growing dangerously dispersed, with the language of epistemic communities, the discourse of states and interstate fora, and the everyday understanding of global forces by the poor growing steadily apart.

There is thus a double apartheid evolving. The academy (especially in the United States) has found in globalization an object around which to conduct its special internal quarrels about such issues as representation, recognition, the "end" of history, the specters of capital (and of comparison), and a host of others. These debates, which still set the standard of value for the global professoriate, nevertheless have an increasingly parochial quality.

Thus the first form of this apartheid is the growing divorce between these debates and those that characterize vernacular discourses about the global, worldwide, that are typically concerned with how to plausibly protect cultural autonomy and economic survival in some local, national, or regional sphere in the era of "reform" and "openness." The second form of apartheid is that the poor and their advocates find themselves as far from the anxieties of their own national discourses about globalization as they do from the intricacies of the debates in global fora and policy discourses surrounding trade, labor, environment, disease, and warfare.

But a series of social forms has emerged to contest, interrogate, and reverse these developments and to create forms of knowledge transfer and social mobilization that proceed independently of the actions of corporate capital and the nation-state system (and its international affiliates and guarantors). These social forms rely on strategies, visions, and horizons for globalization on behalf of the poor that can be characterized as "grassroots globalization" or, put in a slightly different way, as "globalization from below." This essay is an argument for the significance of this kind of globalization, which strives for a democratic and autonomous standing in respect to the various forms by which global power further seeks to extend its dominion. The idea of an international civil society will have no future outside of the success of these efforts to globalize from below. And in the study of these forms lies an obligation for academic research that, if honored, might make its deliberations more consequential for the poorer 80 percent of the population of the world (now totaling 6 billion) who are socially and fiscally at risk.

To take up this challenge to American academic thought about globalization, this essay moves through three arguments. The first is about the peculiar optical challenges posed by the global. The second is about area studies-the largest institutional epistemology through which the academy in the United States has apprehended much of the world in the last fifty years. The third concerns the very ground from which academics typically and unwittingly speak-the category of "research" itself. These three steps bring me to a conclusion about the relations between pedagogy, activism, and research in the era of globalization.


Globalization is inextricably linked to the current workings of capital on a global basis; in this regard it extends the earlier logics of empire, trade, and political dominion in many parts of the world. Its most striking feature is the runaway quality of global finance, which appears remarkably independent of traditional constraints of information transfer, national regulation, industrial productivity, or "real" wealth in any particular society, country, or region. The worrisome implications of this chaotic, high-velocity, promiscuous movement of financial (especially speculative) capital have been noted by several astute critics (Greider 1997; Rodrik 1997; Soros 1998, among others) so I will not dwell on them here. I am among those analysts who are inclined to see globalization as a definite marker of a new crisis for the sovereignty of nation-states, even if there is no consensus on the core of this crisis or its generality and finality (Appadurai 1996; Rosenau 1997; Ruggie 1993; Sassen 1996).

My concern here is with the conditions of possibility for the democratization of research about globalization in the context of certain dominant forms of critical knowledge, especially as these forms have come to be organized by the social sciences in the West. Here we need to observe some optical peculiarities. The first is that there is a growing disjuncture between the globalization of knowledge and the knowledge of globalization. The second is that there is an inherent temporal lag between the processes of globalization and our efforts to contain them conceptually. The third is that globalization as an uneven economic process creates a fragmented and uneven distribution of just those resources for learning, teaching, and cultural criticism that are most vital for the formation of democratic research communities that could produce a global view of globalization. That is, globalization resists the possibility of just those forms of collaboration that might make it easier to understand or criticize.

In an earlier, more confident epoch in the history of social science -notably in the 1950s and 1960s during the zenith of modernization theory-such epistemological diffidence would have been quickly dismissed, since that was a period when there was a more secure sense of the social in the relationship between theory, method, and scholarly location. Theory and method were seen as naturally metropolitan, modern, and Western. The rest of the world was seen in the idiom of cases, events, examples, and test sites in relation to this stable location for the production or revision of theory. Most varieties of Marxist theory, though sharply critical of the capitalist project behind modernization theory, nevertheless were equally "realist," both in their picture of the architecture of the world system and in their understanding of the relationship between theory and cases. Thus much excellent work in the Marxist tradition had no special interest in problems of voice, perspective, or location in the study of global capitalism. In short, a muscular objectivism united much social science in the three decades after World War II, whatever the politics of the practitioners.

Today, one does not have to be a postmodernist, relativist, or deconstructionist (key words in the culture wars of the Western academic world) to admit that political subjects are not mechanical products of their objective circumstances, that the link between events significantly separated in space and proximate in time is often hard to explain, that the kinds of comparison of social units that relied on their empirical separability cannot be secure, and that the more marginal regions of the world are not simply producers of data for the theory mills of the North.


It has now become something of a truism that we are functioning in a world fundamentally characterized by objects in motion. These objects include ideas and ideologies, people and goods, images and messages, technologies and techniques. This is a world of flows (Appadurai 1996). It is also, of course, a world of structures, organizations, and other stable social forms. But the apparent stabilities that we see are, under close examination, usually our devices for handling objects characterized by motion. The greatest of these apparently stable objects is the nation-state, which is today frequently characterized by floating populations, transnational politics within national borders, and mobile configurations of technology and expertise.

But to say that globalization is about a world of things in motion somewhat understates the point. The various flows we see-of objects, persons, images, and discourses-are not coeval, convergent, isomorphic, or spatially consistent. They are in what I have elsewhere called relations of disjuncture. By this I mean that the paths or vectors taken by these kinds of things have different speeds, axes, points of origin and termination, and varied relationships to institutional structures in different regions, nations, or societies. Further, these disjunctures themselves precipitate various kinds of problems and frictions in different local situations. Indeed, it is the disjunctures between the various vectors characterizing this world-in-motion that produce fundamental problems of livelihood, equity, suffering, justice, and governance.

Examples of such disjunctures are phenomena such as the following: Media flows across national boundaries that produce images of wellbeing that cannot be satisfied by national standards of living and consumer capabilities; flows of discourses of human rights that generate demands from workforces that are repressed by state violence which is itself backed by global arms flows; ideas about gender and modernity that circulate to create large female workforces at the same time that cross-national ideologies of "culture," "authenticity," and national honor put increasing pressure on various communities to morally discipline just these working women who are vital to emerging markets and manufacturing sites. Such examples could be multiplied. What they have in common is the fact that globalization-in this perspective a cover term for a world of disjunctive flows-produces problems that manifest themselves in intensely local forms but have contexts that are anything but local.

If globalization is characterized by disjunctive flows that generate acute problems of social well-being, one positive force that encourages an emancipatory politics of globalization is the role of the imagination in social life (Appadurai 1996). The imagination is no longer a matter of individual genius, escapism from ordinary life, or just a dimension of aesthetics. It is a faculty that informs the daily lives of ordinary people in myriad ways: It allows people to consider migration, resist state violence, seek social redress, and design new forms of civic association and collaboration, often across national boundaries. This view of the role of the imagination as a popular, social, collective fact in the era of globalization recognizes its split character. On the one hand, it is in and through the imagination that modern citizens are disciplined and controlled -by states, markets, and other powerful interests. But is it is also the faculty through which collective patterns of dissent and new designs for collective life emerge. As the imagination as a social force itself works across national lines to produce locality as a spatial fact and as a sensibility (Appadurai 1996), we see the beginnings of social forms without either the predatory mobility of unregulated capital or the predatory stability of many states. Such social forms have barely been named by current social science, and even when named their dynamic qualities are frequently lost. Thus terms like "international civil society" do not entirely capture the mobility and malleability of those creative forms of social life that are localized transit points for mobile global forms of civic and civil life.

One task of a newly alert social science is to name and analyze these mobile civil forms and to rethink the meaning of research styles and networks appropriate to this mobility. In this effort, it is important to recall that one variety of the imagination as a force in social life-the academic imagination-is part of a wider geography of knowledge created in the dialogue between social science and area studies, particularly as it developed in the United States after World War II. This geography of knowledge invites us to rethink our picture of what "regions" are and to reflect on how research itself is a special practice of the academic imagination. These two tasks are taken up below.


As scholars concerned with localities, circulation, and comparison, we need to make a decisive shift away from what we may call "trait" geographies to what we could call "process" geographies. Much traditional thinking about "areas" has been driven by conceptions of geographical, civilizational, and cultural coherence that rely on some sort of trait list-of values, languages, material practices, ecological adaptations, marriage patterns, and the like. However sophisticated these approaches, they all tend to see "areas" as relatively immobile aggregates of traits, with more or less durable historical boundaries and with a unity composed of more or less enduring properties. These assumptions have often been further telescoped backward through the lens of contemporary U.S. security-driven images of the world and, to a lesser extent, through colonial and postcolonial conceptions of national and regional identity.


Excerpted from Globalization by Arjun Appadurai Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Arjun Appadurai is Samuel N. Harper Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization.

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