Areas. In addition to other ways in which globalization changes the context for social science disciplines and area studies, a remarkable transformation of all world areas has affected the meaning of area in this phrase. Although, like other familiar words, "area" has many meanings, its sense in "area studies" is well defined lexicographically as related to "...various aspects of a geographical region and its inhabitants, as natural resources, history, language, institutions, or cultural and economic characteristics." (Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary, 1996). What needs to be added to this definition is the contemporary transformation of the world achieved by intensified globalization. Indeed, all localities are now glocalized: glocalization has been universalized.
The dictionary identifies a geographical region and its inhabitants with a set of properties belonging to people who live in relative isolation from the outside world within a given set of boundaries, normally those created by states. Gradually, however, such regions no longer exist -- instead, we have a floating world of fleeting images in which geographical locations have become stages on which global dramas unfold. Many forces converge to write these dramas, as I shall mention, but I will focus on diasporas as a focal theme in these overlapping scenarios.
Mobility. Perhaps the easiest way to explain this transformation is to think about mobility. This word applies equally to information, transportation, migration, and other related variables. Peoples who formerly lived in relative (never complete) isolation from the outside world were able to develop their own institutions, language and cultural practices as distinctive and unique phenomena which could be identified and described by outsiders. The prototypical area specialist was the cultural anthropologist who adopted a "primitive village" and described it as a kind of self-contained world-system. That perspective has been re-shaped as an image replicated by political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, economists, geographers, historians and humanists as they applied their special skills to the cross-disciplinary study of many societies and civilizations throughout the world, but especially in the Non-Western world.
Insiders, of course, could not appreciate their own uniqueness unless or until they learned about the outside world and could, then, see how they were different -- they may have first gained such knowledge from the outside observers who were visiting them. Now, increasingly, more access, from many sources, to information about the rest of the world has transformed not only the way people think about themselves but also the way they behave -- indeed, this knowledge changes their attitudes and behaviors so that it becomes more like that of the outside world and begins to lose its most unique qualities. Perhaps as in quantum physics, we have learned that to study an area is also to change it. It is hard to describe something that is transformed by its description -- we need to see all phenomena as processes.
Although trade in goods and services has occurred among all civilized peoples since world-systems first evolved, and even the most isolated communities had some external exchanges, the pace of such trade has increased so radically in recent years that the everyday use of objects imported from abroad has become a ubiquitous feature of life everywhere in the world. Traditional arts and crafts have also changed in response to the world market's demand for them and the need of local people to produce exportables to exchange for the imports they now want. In this context, the distinction between what is purely local and what is part of the world market system has become increasingly fuzzy. The markets of remote communities are now stacked with objects manufactured for tourists while authentically indigenous artifacts have become rare "finds."
Perhaps most importantly, personal mobility has vastly accelerated the migration of people between their original home places and external locations. Migration includes not only voluntary movement as some individuals everywhere seek better economic, social and educational opportunities for themselves and as employers hunt for cheaper and better qualified employees, but it also includes refugees fleeing oppression, looking for safety and freedom. The new technologies facilitate migration by providing faster and cheaper means for travel and more information about available opportunities abroad that increase their attractiveness to potential travelers. Without going into this familiar subject any more, just consider two complementary effects on any area: first many former residents leave and second, many non-residents enter. Increasingly, the population within any area becomes mixed, while those who leave retain memories and contacts that lead them to protect various kinds of links with the area from which they moved. Thus the local contains much that is global, while the global is increasingly penetrated and re-shaped by many locals. The word glocalization usefully captures this apparent contradiction.
All of these forms of mobility change the identity of any area, making it both easier and more difficult to study. It is easier because increasingly what one sees anywhere is what one finds everywhere -- one can almost take if for granted. Globalization simply has a homogenizing impact that increases the similarities that make all humans resemble other humans wherever they happen to live. However, for the dedicated area specialist who wants to discover what is specific and special about each area, the task becomes more difficult. Much that was endogenously unique has vanished and defies analysis except through archaeological and historical records -- or interviews with aging survivors. Much of what one finds in any area is recent and contemporary, leading outsiders to reject it as exogenous. Yet for the insiders who have accepted modern innovations and assimilated the exogenous, the endogenous has been forgotten and dislocated. This distinction leads outsiders to focus on vanishing practices and objects whereas insiders increasingly fasten their attention on what is new and evolving. A symbol of this shift in focus can be seen in any tourist center where outsiders hunt for remnants of exotic folk dances, traditional music and folk art, while the locals flock to hear rock music, to buy cellular phones and watch imported movies or television shows. Specialists on local music ignore new compositions by local composers because they are not "authentic" even though they may well be what all the locals are listening to. What the area specialist values may be what the local has rejected, and what is now popular is seen by outsiders as irrelevant.
Diasporas. A growing tendency of migrants to retain or recreate links with their homelands is also redefining areas, transforming the focus of area studies. In fact, area specialists probably find it easier to attend to the changes that are occurring within the geographic zone they choose to focus on than they do to understand the transformation of spatial concepts that is now going on. Anyone seeking to learn about what it means to be a Filipino, Lebanese or Venezuelan has not only to study what is happening in the Philippines, Lebanon or Venezuela but to go around the world to visit with those who came from these countries but live elsewhere. Formerly, one could put them down as mere emigrants who, having abandoned their homelands, chose to live as more or less well adapted immigrants in some other place. Strident nationalism in the hostlands where they settled sped the melting pot processes whereby they assimilated to their new homes and cut the ties that linked them with their former homelands. Although these processes were never complete, they worked well enough to support the myth that the people of any area were those who lived there -- while those who left just vanished.
Glocalization, however, is radically changing that reality. Increasingly those who leave can return home and maintain the ties of family and nationality that used to characterize them. Here I am using diaspora to characterize any people, whether migrants or not, who have been separated from their homeland by politically established boundaries but maintain various contacts with them. Concurrently, of course, diasporans may assimilate in their hostlands and become well integrated there, simultaneously maintaining a kind of Janus-faced orientation in two or more directions. They can send money and goods to their relatives and friends back "home," participate in its political movements, or work in companies whose manufactures and trade hinge on old country contacts. They can even participate in areas studies programs as specialists on their homelands -- indeed, a foreign student who wants to assimilate and do a doctoral dissertation based on materials available in h/er hostland is often discouraged and, instead, urged to return "home" to collect data. A paradoxical process of diasporization occurs when individuals who at first wanted to sever their home ties find themselves compelled by forces beyond their control to restore or activate these links. Migrants can float in and out of their diasporas in response to converging forces from many directions. Thus diasporization and de-diasporization are complementary and continuing processes -- one is not automatically in diaspora because s/he has migrated, and many diasporans never migrated, they were simply cut off from their homelands by boundary changes.
This process is impelled by new forces in the homelands as well as those
operating in hostlands. Increasingly, governments view members of their
diasporas as a resource to be tapped or a responsibility to be honored.
They may press the ex-students formed by a country's brain drain
to come back home, to share the expertise they acquired living abroad and,
of course, intentionally or not, to import exogenous influences in the
process. Homelands may press their diasporas to support them politically,
to acquire goods, weapons, knowledge, money, and even to recruit foreigners,
for the benefit of the "motherland". Sometimes, moreover, diasporans become
pawns in international politics -- if they are victims of oppression, they
may be used as pretexts for intervention. They may be used as conduits
for funds and information designed to influence the foreign policies of
their hostlands. Homeland governments may promote diasporization
"overseas" citizens for a variety of political, economic, and social reasons.
Area Studies. This is no place to catalog all the possibilities that glocalization generates. My point is simply that no area in the world today can be understood as just a geographic location in which residents do and say things that outsiders can and should attend to under the guise of area studies. Instead, I think, we need to redefine areas globally -- every area is not so much a place as a construct in our minds, and in the minds of people who somehow link their own lives with a place, whether or not they happen to live there. This point has already been made by perceptive area specialists such as Willa Tanabe, dean of the School of Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii, who wrote:
...the post cold war has ... "weakened the sense of place as a marker of social identity." I am defining globalization as ... transnational, transregional processes which impact a wide number of local communities. ... Area studies scholars perhaps failed to recognize the importance of global forces because they misconstrued the geography of cultural areas. The geography of the Philippines is no longer bounded by oceans surrounding the Philippine islands; rather, we can map Filipino culture as a flow chart that includes Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, N. Marianas and Los Angeles. ... our notion of area can no longer be a bounded system of social, national or cultural categories and ... the most critical issues today are those that cross borders... Area studies must cross borders to remain relevant.
The complete text can be found at: http://www2.hawaii.edu/movingcultures/tanabe-crisis.html#globalization.
A neologism may help us focus our attention on such facts as these: let us call any place in the world a glocality if we can think of its location as simply a focus of attention for global processes. Increasingly, every locality in the world has become a glocality. Area studies in the future may focus attention on selected glocalities, but they will have to do so in the context of an increasingly interdependent and mobile planetary system in which every locality is profoundly affected by the whole world. It is equally important, I think, for us to see that every glocality has, in varying degrees, an impact on the rest of the world. Area studies, I think, will and should continue, but they need to be reconceptualized in the context of an increasingly globalized world. Perhaps a new title, such as global studies, can provide a refreshingly new framework for such an approach, provided we are able to retain the best that area studies has already offered us. .
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