Economies of Signs and Space
Scott Lash and John Urry
Chapter 11: Globalization and Localization (pp.279-313)
Notes made whilst reading the chapter. Apologies in advance for any incomprehensive trains of thought.
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Contemporary nation states are now too small for the big problems of contemporary social life and too big for the small problems. (Raymond Williams)
Thinking globally, acting locally + a global culture of nationality and locality.
Increased permeability of national boundaries.
Two main themes/questions: what happens to/what is society? Are there two parallel processes operating – globalisation AND localisation?
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Recent transformations rendering nation-state societies non-sovereign:
- Development of transnational practices independent of nation state
- Globalisation is advanced capitalist globalisation. North Atlantic rim countries play central role. Transnational practices depend on localised sites.
- National governments are increasingly unable to control cross-border flows generated by transnational practices.
- Many traditional domains of state activity must now be fulfilled through international collaboration – increased political integration
- Putative pattern of global governance has developed. Transnational bureaucracies, international representative organisations and international agencies have been created.
- Now socio-spatial entities are emerging. Not of the North Atlantic sort.
- Westphalian model of democracy (world divided into sovereign states) is becoming outmoded and replaces by ‘cosmopolitan democracy’ – global world order?
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International societies are characterised by power being dispersed, but where found it is highly concentrated.
How balance local and global? (personal relationships vs. world-wide presence?)
Symbols of place and location, trust etc.
International modern style of architecture (fashion, furniture etc) causing reactions
— Resurgence of locally oriented culture and politics
— Local powers tend to be reactive, resist decisions from centres
Localities of global processes become basis for local economic/institutional and social/cultural growth.
— The local and the global intersect in various places
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- Problem of interpretation: globalising certain sectors means local entrepreneurs must develop means of interpreting/representing this global process
- Localities provide context for social interaction, necessary to make agreements/coalitions/build trust.
- Places enable product and process innovation to occur in relatively decentralised systems (bottom-up approach possible)
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Money itself involves a complex dialectic of global AND local processes.
Globalisation of finance depends on particular localisations. (City of London: The Eurodollar market exists in London because people do not believe that the British government is about to close it down. Reputation and history reason for locality.)
Credit’s role as the major basis for de-territorialising the world economy. System of credit separate from the system of production. Money no longer only as means of circulation.
Global credit system is predominantly private, its growth has generated new privatisation of world economy.
New global forms of credit are out of control of nation states, but they (credit) do exert power over them (nation states).
Spatial proximity help sustain trust. Compliance enforced by word of mouth (Eurodollar market placed in London, but consequent growth ruins original properties – properties that had London chosen in the first place!)
— Local conditions desired in a global market?
Cities expanding as result of trade. Aesthetic’ landscape/image of power’ developing.
— Canary Wharf, London and Battery City Park, New York are both vertical injections as opposed to horizontal vernacular landscapes.
— Is the image of power vertical? (Reference to Metropolis and dystopian films. Money = Dystopia?)
With transformation of city came transformation of morals. Previously, people were judged by behaviour/honesty etc. Now people are judged by how much and what they can consume.
Personal success is more important than conformity.
Financial markets have generated three world cities: London, New York and Tokyo. Film markets are generally anchored in London, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo (and Paris, Berlin, Bollywood…) What are the links? Image of power conveyed on screen?
— World cities of finance vs. world cities of film
— Increased agglomeration of central control functions within a few sites, in particular within these three (financial) cities
— Interconnectedness and sharing of culture between these cities because of being anchor points/local gestations of global trends.
— Localities/places influencing global trends rather than banks?
“It is the interactions and connections between these cities and not competition between them which suggest that a global urban system is in the making.” (p.290)
Money is an exceptionally important sign interconnecting with other signs removed from real or material processes. Money functions as a detached signifier, part of the sign-system of postmodern societies. MONEY AS SIGN AND SIGNIFIER.
Globalisation of processes affects levels of poverty, standards of health and the nature and quality of the environment.
Global and local action should complement each other, not compete against each other!
Contemporary problems (and solutions!) are global, but certain aspects of the environment are only comprehensible at local level. For many people, only local action can be envisaged and sustained.
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Society and nature previously seen as two separate spheres. Nature has been seen as a machine rather than an organism, separate from humans. It is a complex, symbiotic relationship and attitudes must change. Male science dominate female nature – again, symbiosis required!
“This domination of ‘nature’ resulted moreover not only from capitalist industrialisation but also from intense inter-state competition and the pursuit of maximum economic growth rather than environmental management.” (p.294)
Money superior to nature?
(Perception of) natural limits depend on historical and geographic determinations –
Nature should be seen as enabler, not as limits!
“What is required is the recognition that each form of social/economic life has its own specific mode and dynamic interrelation with its own specific contextual conditions, resource materials, energy sources and naturally mediated unintended consequences.” (Benton, 1989:77) (p.294)
— Many films speculate what happens when we exceed these restrictions/conditions.
Appropriation of nature. Nature is produced economically, culturally and politically. This produced nature takes revenge on human societies in the most dramatic ways.
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Tourism has redefined land as resource for leisure. Tourism one of the most important ways in which relations between humans and nature are now organised.
— Changing attitudes: LAND + TOURISM = a new way to CONSUME nature?
Reading and production of nature varied. It is learnt and taught differently in different societies, periods and social groups.
Two processes: Household/local issues AND political/social issues
Work has now been replaced by consumption
— Work pride/ethics replaced by pride in possession of consumer goods
…”the pleasure principle becomes dominant. Pleasure seeking is a duty since the consumption of goods and services becomes the structural basis of Western societies.” (p.296)
This principle extends worldwide via global media.
— Are dystopian, return-to-nature films a response to this?
Development of global consumerism has the most profound consequences for the physical environment. Nature turned into an artefact of consumer choice.
Consumerism applied to solution of environmental problems, developing environmental economics – “a sustainable future can be bought within the market place” – is this making matters good or simply ‘less bad’?
Duties and rights of consumer? Awareness! (visual consumption, clean air etc.)
Development of consumerism has helped generate critique of environmental degredation – cultural focus on nature!
— Social construction of preservation of nature. Nature cannot survive without cultural intervention.
Humans are now increasingly considered part of nature (again)
— Humans are thought to have special responsibilities for nature, because of unprecedented powers of global destruction
Reflexivity: re-examining social/cultural practices. (through future film?)
— Reflexivity leading method of Western science, to be constructed as no more legitimate than other social activities.
Science part of problem AND solution.
Nature is increasingly viewed as ‘global’ or ‘holistic’.
— Brundtland Report: Our Common Future.
— Global mass media have assisted in generating an ‘imagined community’ of all societies inhabiting ‘One Earth’. Gaia (Lovelock) – nature as superorganism.
Unborn people are considered to have extensive rights of inheritance. Quality of environment no worse than what it is today. Evolutionary, global rights?
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Three levels of environmental politics:
- Preservation – preservation from change
- Reform – Reform environmentally damaging social practices
- Ecological transformation – Transformation of industrial societies/consumerism
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Think globally, act locally, 2 implications:
- Environmental problems at local level have global origins (acid rain) and need international remedies to remedy them.
- Large problems need localised action to be resolved. Decentralised action from large number of people (who may not benefit form change – altruistic approach needed – difficult to motivate!)
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Global system of agreement similar to banking society – name and shame
GLOBALISATION: “the intensification of worldwide social relation which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by geographically distant events and vice versa.” (Giddens 1990:64) (p.301)
Everything depends on developments elsewhere. Technologies, transportation, communication, subduing/unifying space and producing ‘small worlds’ or ‘imagined worlds’. Signs and images responsible for space-time compression.
Globalisation involves circulation of images. These images depict ‘One Earth’.
Especially attached to countryside, particularly attractive to many social groups – reflecting the anti-urbanism of environmental movement.
— Does this longing to return to nature connect to disaster film? Does something extreme need to happen to enable us to accommodate such a dramatic change?
— Countryside ‘closer to nature’, absence of machines, unplanned environment… There is, however, little unplanned about Western countryside.
— Is the countryside the sustainable option if we need to increase density in our cities to reduce environmental impact?
Different kinds of conservation and preservation. What is indigenous is not absolute – there is no absolute nature!
Reflexivity now enables the production of simulacra, replications of originals more real, or hyper-real, than the original.
The collapse of spatial barriers does not mean that the significance of space is decreasing. The specificity of place becomes more important as temporal and spatial barriers collapse.
— Globalisation generates stronger localities/local identities.
International tourism is a process by which the affluent countries, having mined their own natural environments, now consume those of other people – especially environments consistent with images of the ‘natural’ and ‘unspoilt’ (global circulation of images)
— Again, we are back to consumption! People consume more than their local resources allow and turn to less fortunate areas to keep their habits going…
GLOBAL CULTURE, international media companies, interests in numerous counties.
Global interests – create global culture – international market for products.
Mediatisation of culture by large companies. Strength of companies vs. weakness of consumer.
Does global culture necessarily call for uniformity? Not a global culture, but a number of processes which are producing the globalisation of culture.
Globalisation takes many shapes. Processes are dominant and autonomous from mere inter-state relationships.
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Global networks of communication/information crucial. Symbolic forms transmitted to extended, dispersed audiences. New kinds of social interaction. Appadurai develops this idea and identifies 5 dimensions of global flows in Modernity at Large:
- Etnoscapes – tourists, immigration, guest workers
- Technoscapes - technologies
- Financescapes – currency markets, stock speculations
- Mediascapes – electronic capabilities to produce and disseminate images
- Ideoscapes – images linked to ideologies/states
De-territorialisation characterises these spatial landscapes.
Mediascapes are of increasing cultural significance (and overtake ideoscapes!)
— Media above state/religion/ideology?
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People are increasingly consumers of cultures as well and products. Differences between the two are dissolving. Power of consumer: lack of allegiance.
Take into account circumstances in which cultural products are made and received. Read differently in different cultures/communities/countries.
At level of audience there is no sign of ‘global culture’. Increasing contradiction between centralised production and fragmented reception.
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Role of the Cosmopolitan: Cosmopolitan involves intellectual and aesthetic stance of openness to different national cultures. Search for and enjoyment of contrasts. Does not want uniformity.
— Plays important role in production of global culture!
People are increasingly world travellers, directly or via TV. It is part of ‘being taken for a ride’ in consumed culture.
- Patterns of mobility – real and simulated, ‘right’ to travel
- Curiosity – about all places, people and cultures
- Openness to culture – willingness to appreciate elements of language/culture
- Willingness to take risks – to move outside tourist bubble, get to ‘real’ culture
- Ability to locate own society – historically/geographically/aesthetically/culturally
- Semiotic skill – ability to interpret tourist signs
‘Consumer Citizenship’ is developing
Consumption spreading like a disease – once goods have been consumed, countries, cultures and experiences come next. Do we have ‘rights’ to consume ‘other’ cultures?
National cultures are particular, timebound, expressive, eclecticism heavily constrained. Sense of continuity between generations, shared memories of specific events, sense of common destiny.
Global culture: no collective memories, no generational succession, no sacred landscapes, no Golden Age, Importance of images – construction of ethnicity/nationality/invented traditions? Change feelings about national identity.
Is Hollywood creating new, more desirable identities?
Traditional societal institutions less important. New kinds of social identities/sites/institutions emerging.
Women have more global interests – female heroes?
Social identity in imagined community?
Societies no longer obviously govern themselves, and rights, duties and commitments are not simply owed to nation-states.
Mobile objects, reflexive subjects – disorganised capitalism.
Global-local relationships are changing.
New spheres of social activity emerging.
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Lash, S. & Urry, J. (1994) Economies of Signs and Space. London: Sage