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The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 24:181191, 2002

Copyright 2002 Taylor & Francis

1071-4413/02 $12.00 + .00

Amresh Sinha

Making Geography Irrelevant

Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, in 1967, declared the

advent of a new audio-visual age of global Gemeinschaft:1 Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of time and space and
pours upon us incessantly and continually the concerns of all
other men. . . . Ours is a brand new world of allatonceness. Time
has ceased, space has vanished. We now live in a global village.2 What seems to have vanished from this eclectic scene of
the global village is none other than the locus of the place, the
very geography within which a community is normally perceived
in its national identity. In essence, without geography, without
territorial boundaries, the world ceases to be divided into nation-states; instead, it represents the geological properties of the
planet linked by intricate connections and networks of flows and
streams and rhythms and resonances. The time ceases, it stops,
and why not? Isnt this the time of the Second Coming? The
implications for information technologies with respect to, what
James Carey has described as, making geography irrelevant,
have, however, profound consequences.3
What is at stake in the analysis of global versus local that
must be negotiated through the presence and absence of geography in the global cultural economy? Do we require geography of
space? Given the global nature of media technologies with the
help of satellites and fiber optics, it is quite clear that the geographical boundaries of the nation-state no longer serve as the
marker of territorial sovereignty as far as the electronic medium
is concerned.
My strategy for interrogating this rather vexing division of local versus global will be introduced by a critique of Marshall
McLuhans concept of the global village, which is experiencing
some kind of a renaissance after the explosion of the Internet in
the global sphere. It will be followed by a brief discussion of


A. Sinha

Wallersteins World-system theory. Furthermore, the relationship

between local and global will be discussed by the writings of
cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai. And lastly, I will focus
on Anthony Giddens, who thinks globalization is a process of
intensification of social connections and awareness, where the
local and the global are mutually inflected categories that can no
longer remain absolute or constant.
I would begin with clarifying my position, my place of enunciation to the questions asked above, by acknowledging the limited
aspect of my answer. I am concentrating mostly on the issues of
local versus global, and the electronic media form only a part of
that analysis. First of all, local versus global can be analyzed
from a variety of approaches that would include the perspectives
of political economy, sociology, anthropology/ethnography and
also, from within a very broad-based definition, cultural studies
of representation of class, race, gender, nations, ethnicities, and
sexualities in the new media.
The purpose is not to engage in the polemics of whether
McLuhans prophesies of the phenomenon of the global village
are now fully realized through the networkings of the global computing systems, the world wide web, or any such things, but to
assess critically some of the foundational legacies of McLuhans
thought that the media never forget to spout as part of their
sound-bite philosophy. Because of the limitation of options in a
short, conference length paper, I have decided to address the
question of geography as the most pivotal and the most serious
question implicating the nexus of local versus global. The importance of geography in the politics of local versus global can
hardly be underestimated. My critique of the problematic of localglobal division (with which I really begin this paper) will be
directed to cultural studies, specifically in the areas of representation of racial and ethnic minorities, feminism, and gay and
lesbian issues (but I wont be able to discuss the issues separately), as each one of them is visibly and politically engaged in
contesting the imposition of the politics of marginalization from
the center.
It appears, in general, that, in the thinking of transnationalism,
or, for that matter, in postcolonial discourse, there is a serious
desire to shift the discourse from marginalia towards the center.
Gayatri Spivak describes this tendentiousness quite succinctly:
Marginalia as a concept in the olden days had considerable meaning.
Textual criticism in the pre-modern period is much interested in
marginalia. In the early print culture in the West it was in the margins
that the so-called argument of the paragraphs was written. I would like to

Globalization: Making Geography Irrelevant


take away the current notion of marginality, which implicitly valorizes the
center. It is, for the critic, a necessarily self-appointed position, which is
basically an accusing position. It seems to me that I would like to reinvent this kind of marginality which I now find: exclusion from various
turfs. I would like to re-invent it as simply a critical moment rather than
a de-centered moment. . . . I think of the marginas not simply opposed
to the center but as an accomplice of the centerbecause I find it very
troubling that I should be defined as a marginal. . . . The authenticity of
the margins, the defining of me as the spokesperson for the third world,
is undermined by the fact that my own class in India does not particularly
like what I am doing. The concept-metaphor of margins should be thought
more and more in terms of the history of margins: the place for the argument, the place for the critical moment, the place of interest for assertions rather than a shifting of the center.4

One of the founders of Cultural Studies at Birmingham School,

Stuart Hall, also hate(s) the term global postmodernism, because, as he suggests, theres nothing that global postmodernism
loves better than a certain kind of difference: a touch of ethnicity,
a taste of the exotic, a bit of the other (which in the United
Kingdom has a sexual as well as ethnic connotation).5 He, too,
like Spivak, resists this postmodernist appropriation of global
cultural difference, which in some sense prolongs the continuist
project of the old centre peripheries stretched over from the
vestiges of high modernism. Yet, he makes concessions in his
critique of global postmodernism by acknowledging the fact
that although the global postmodernism might only be a recast
street version of what used to be earlier modernity in a strictly
theoretical sense, the process of globalization has nonetheless
shifted the terrain of discourse toward what is now known as
popular culture: toward popular practices, toward everyday practices, toward local narratives, toward the decentering of old hierarchies and the grand narratives.6 And like Spivak, he too thinks
this decentering or displacement [marginalization and diaspora]
opens up new spaces of contestation and affects momentous
shift . . . thus presenting us with a strategic and important opportunity for intervention. . . . 7
In media and/or communication theory, the institution of local versus global appears in a much different light. For instance,
in the writings of cultural anthroplogist Arjun Appadurai, the
relationship between local and global is theorized in terms of the
tension between cultural homogenization and cultural
heterogenization.8 As Appadurai explains, the term cultural
homogenization basically refers to Americanization or
commoditization of global cultural artifacts as a result of the
economic and cultural domination of American culture in the
global sphere. As far as cultural heterogenization is concerned,


A. Sinha

Appadurai finds in it a kind of an enculturation process (reminiscent of the old anthropology) that is brought to bear upon the
dynamism of the forces of rapid circulations from the metropolises to new emerging and developing societies that do not simply capitulate to the symbolic authority of cultural imperialism.
In fact, there are numerous examples both from the third world
and the diasporic communities that exemplify a process of
indegenizationmuch like what Jameson has formulated in
his theory of postmodernism as pastiche and parody elsewhere,9 whereby a disavowal of cultural signs of the exchange
economy of goods is effectuated through the intervention as well
as agency of translation or transformation, or mimicry, in Homi
Bhabhas sense, as a sign of resistance, the liminality between
the symbolic and the imaginaryof the global cultural commodities within a subversive context of the local cultural practices.
Thus you have a fabulous Elvis Presley imitation in The Brighter
Summer Day, a Tiawanese film by Edward Yang, whose nostalgia can only be attributed to its lack of memory associated with
the song, since Elvis remains a distant figure, despite his widespread global manifestations in the popular culture of many
postcolonial nations.
Appadurai maintains that the rapid changes that are taking
place in the global cultural economy cannot be properly addressed
in terms of existing center-periphery models, nor can they be
measured by the push and pull theory advocated by migration theory, nor, for that matter, the neo-Marxist theory of production and consumption, for that, too, fails to do justice to the
complexity of current global economy, which, for Appadurai, has
to do with certain fundamental disjunctures between economy,
culture and politics.10 Appadurai acknowledges the premise of
the break, but in the sense of a rupture that takes media and
migration as its two major interconnected concepts and explores
its relation to the work of the imagination as a constitutive feature of modern subjectivity.
Instability is at the heart of the production of modern
subjectivities. Movements, motion, mass migration in juxtaposition with the rapid flow of mass mediated imageries connect the
deterritorialized viewers to their host and home countries.
Unlike critical theory that insists on an intersubjective participation between the individual and the nation-state, the
articulators of the diasporic public sphere assume a discontinuity from the nation-state. In other words, the diasporic public
sphere is not limited to the concept of the nation-state. The mobile and unforeseeable relationship between mass mediated

Globalization: Making Geography Irrelevant


events and migratory audiences define the core of the link between globalization and the modern.
Of course, there are many other important considerations, such
as the issues of institutional and governmental control, ownership, private/public, censorship, and power politics, which I am
unable to address in a proper and legitimate fashion at this stage.
But, nevertheless, they remain very much a concern of mine,
albeit in absentia at the moment.
Let me provide a brief analysis of the history of the binary
division of the local and the global. If we pursue the paternity of
globalization, we will find two streams of thought preceding it.
The concept of globalization, which first took a firm hold in
McLuhans philosophy and later in the 1970s manifested again
in the diasporic politics of cultural studies of the Birmingham
School, has received widespread critical attention, particularly
from two schools of thought: international relations and worldsystem theory (Wallerstein). International relations as an academic discipline focused upon the theory of the development of
the nation-state system, analyzing its origin particularly in Europe and its subsequent unfolding in the international scenario.
With the growth of international capital, the sovereign states,
which first emerged as separate entities with more or less welldefined boundaries, found themselves increasingly forced into
relationships of mutual interdependence with each other as the
European economy grew larger and became more complex. In
the process, the individual nations did find themselves to be less
sovereign in terms of control over their affairs, but, at the same
time, they also truly found themselves belonging to a global
nation-state system.
The theoretical limitations of international relations are not
due to some failure to conceptualize what globalization as such
meant; instead, its reluctance to examine the social factors of
the internal nature of the nations made it not only overlook the
preceding stages of the premodern states as a historical reference point, but also to establish globalization as a phenomenon
that has to be treated in and only in an international context.
The specificity of the locality has to give way to the relations
amongst the nations on an international scale.
The other model is presented by Immanuel Wallersteins worldsystem theory, which follows the Marxian paradigm in a fundamentally consistent manner. For Wallerstein, the emphasis was
always already global, on world economiesnetworks of economic connections of a geographically extensive sorts. The residue of a Marxian approach is fairly evident in Wallersteins treat-


A. Sinha

ment of the theory of world-system as a direct result of economic

development of capitalism rather than a consequence of political
institution as such. According to Wallerstein, worldeconomies . . . are divided into core-states and peripheral areas.
I do not say peripheral states because one characteristic of a
peripheral area is that the indigenous state is weak, ranging from
its nonexistence (that is, a colonial situation) to one with a low
degree of autonomy (that is, a neo-colonial situation).11
Wallersteins theory of world-system presents its arguments
based upon the distinction of center-periphery theory and empirical analysis. The historical specificity of Wallersteins methodological approach takes into account the development of precapitalist, imperial economy of the last three or four hundred
years and goes on to show how the capitalist economy introduces a completely new type of order that is truly global in its
span. International relations tends to concentrate on the political side of the relationship between the nations, whereas worldsystem theory seemed to base its principle on economic grounds.
The center-periphery division of Wallerstein consists in the division between capitalist forces and socialist enclaves in the global politics. In other words, speaking of Wallerstein, we realize
that the core-periphery dichotomy is fully realized in the primacy of the economic in which the political is relegated to the
peripheral. The reason I bring Wallerstein into the picture is in
order to show how the model of center-periphery, local-global,
still persists and haunts the discourse of political economy, and
there seems to be no getting away from it within the Western
hegemonic discourse of economy, politics, and culture.


Now Id like to move our discussion of localglobal toward media
theory and bring in the issues of sovereignty and national identity to explore the constitutive role of the global village in designating geography as no sense of place. To me it is becoming
increasingly apparent that any discourse that follows this idea
in the wake of the electronic trail of globalization of the entire
world at the expense of geographyas in the work of Marshall
McLuhan and his disciples, especially in the works of Carey and
Paul Levinsonis to some extent partially correct, but it is also a
political obfuscation of sorts, since it fails to effectively engage
with the geopolitics of transnationalism as a phenomenon of
But before I explain the nature of my critique of McLuhans

Globalization: Making Geography Irrelevant


anthropological glance towards future as a nostalgic, as well as

a theological, predilection for the past divested of any social, economic, and political ramifications of what his theory of global
village entails in a complex world in which people and information move in long-distance cultural traffic, it remains my task to
explicate what McLuhan meant by his enigmatic conclusion that
we are standing at the threshold, at the portals, of a new revelation: the (second) coming (after all, doesnt the electronic age
mirror the tribal age?) of the electronic age. Although the postMcLuhanites, the Batesonians, have with uncanny enthusiasm
adopted the Deleuzian and Guattarian model of the rhizome,
deterritorialization, and glacial/global shifts, along with the
concept of nomadism, from A Thousand Plateau, which play a
crucial part in the determination of the global community, still
they have not yet provided us with a convincing and plausible
theory of local or locality, or neighborhood, for that matter.12
Hence what is at stake in the discourse of global versus local
with regard to geographical boundaries in the global cultural
context? We might have to interrogate the haunting specter of
Ernst Renan for the incantation of the sphere of geography in
the discourse of nation. In What is a Nation? Renan explicitly
states that geography, or what are known as natural frontiers,
undoubtedly plays a considerable part in the division of nations.
Rivers have led races on; mountains have brought them to a
halt. The former have (sic) favored movements in history, whereas
the latter have restricted it. Can one say, however, that as some
parties believe, a nations frontiers are written on the map and
that this nation has the right to judge what is necessary to round
off certain contours . . . which are thereby accorded a kind of a
priori limiting faculty.13 The question that comes to mind after
reading Renan is that why else would he find geography as the
foundational element in the making of the modern-state, unless
it is precisely this which is being threatened in the sense of community of the global village?
Do we really require geography of space? Shall we clamor for a
spatial geography that has vanished in the sightings of a new
information order? The geographical and spatial imagination
is once again becoming a cherished and privileged trope of
postmodern media ethnographies. By removing the presence of
geography from its complicity with the imperialistic and hegemonic discoursewhich played a crucial role in defining as well
as establishing the broad range of anthropological and historical
methodologies as proper instrumentations of control over the
colonized subjectsthe adherents of McLuhanisme (the fond expression of the francophones) found in it an excuse for redemp-


A. Sinha

tion from the obligations and the exigencies of the local/national.

Given the global nature of media technologies with the help of
satellites and fiber optics, it is quite clear that the geographical
boundaries of the nation-state no longer serve as the marker of
territorial sovereignty as far the electronic medium is concerned.
In spite of some European states opposition, also aligned with
the popular intellectual opposition, to what is otherwise known
as cultural imperialism of the American ideology, the governments in most democratic countries have failed to keep away the
undesirable cultural contaminants surging through the waves
of electronic communication systems.
When I was in Canada a few years ago, (some) people often felt
helpless as far as their cultural identity was concerned because
of their countrys proximity to the vast and powerful United States
(and this helplessness and paranoia is part of the theme of Canadian filmmaker David Cronenbergs Videodrome). How does
one maintain a cultural autonomy when all the other sectors of
private and public life are completely dominated by and subjected to the images of another country? And what about the
vast Asian market that has just opened up in the last five years
or so to the global and transnational satellite and cable businesses? Rupert Murdochs Star cable company in Hong Kong is
the biggest media conglomerate of cable transmission in Asia
through satellite. As a result, the Asian television is glutted with
American television reruns and advertisements. On the other
hand, it has also opened up a whole new market for indigenous
products as well. Thus, the point is how do you stop the flow of
information that is inherent to the medium through censoring
We live in a world of free exchange of information. It is not
possible to control the media by sheer force of military intervention or through a state of emergency. History proves that such
efforts have always in the end failed. I just recently came across
an article by Heather Cameron on culture jamming. She discusses the two most controversial and despised towers, not the
Twin Towers in New York, mind you, but the towers in the cities
of the then East Berlin and Prague, the latter most ardently despised for its monstrous architecture, not the city, of course, but
the ghastly tower. These towers were built with the express purpose of blocking the signals, and thus operate as jamming stations, from western TV and radio broadcasts. Cameron defines
jamming as follows: Jamming, despite all the sophisticated electronics, is a crude overpowering. It can take three forms: tuning
the tower to a specific frequency and keying up over weaker signals to broadcast noise, snow, and static; broadcasting compet-

Globalization: Making Geography Irrelevant


ing news, sports, and cultural programs on top of the desired

signal; or flooding the sky with noise, making it impossible for
any broadcast to get through. The overwhelming power used to
block the high-flying TV signals results in a deafening whiteout,
knocking every signal out of the sky.14 But it was impossible to
completely block the signals. People could easily circumvent the
noise factor by simply using directional antennae by splitting
the jammed signals into parts, thereby unbonding the competing messages. The same towers are now being used to broadcast reruns of American television shows and to facilitate cellular phone frequencies. This is something that brings us closer to
McLuhans point that the medium is the message.


According to Anthony Giddens, globalization can . . . be defined
as the intensification of worldwide social relations which link
distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped
by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.15 He claims
that modernity is inherently global and the most basic characteristics of modern institutions are to be found in their
disembeddedness and reflexivity. The traditional sociological
analyses of the media mostly took into account the workings of
the industrial mode of production and reception. Such theoretical accounts were still part and parcel of a sociologically bound
system embedded within the privileged epistemic valorization
of the idea of society itself. I started this paper by suggesting
that the crisis of modernity is precisely its doing away with the
vortex of time-space continuum, the logic inherent in sociological as well as all subsequent literature. Instead, the processes of
globalization have effectively managed to destabilize the putative conception of a linear world, of the Newtonian and the Euclidean dimensions, by altering the traditional relationship of
local and global from its mooring in a time-space paradigm. We
must reconceptualize the different social contexts and connections and networks that the distanciation of time and space
initiates in the understanding of the local, as that which is present
to itself and the perceiver, and the interconnection across distance, which is both present and absent. Giddens finds globalization as a process in which the local and the global are mutually inflected categories that can no longer remain absolute or
We should also pay attention to the fact that the audiences of
the new media are experiencing reality in a mediatized form,


A. Sinha

which perpetuates the schizophrenic conditions of the

postmodern world, a la Jameson, in the fragmentation of time
and space. The schizophrenic dissimulation of the phenomenological here and now, of the Hegelian sense certainty, by the
electronic media in its virtual/spectral cohesion and dislocation
of the local-global, the impossible and the irreducible scenarios
of presence/absence, creates a moment otherwise known in media
theory as the cultural production of homogenization of here and
there. The electronic media undermine the traditional frameworks of physical settings and social environments of the viewer
by implicating the viewer in the presence of the others while concealing his or her own presence. But since the other is merely
produced as the object of the image or as a scintilla of information, as statistical aggregate, as mere presence, then the act of
initiating the process of watching as outsiders from the means of
production, a fate shared in its global dimension by all those
who watch the proceedings of programs on the new media, can
be inferred as a common bond between the viewers of a globally
voyeuristic and incestuous community. Think of the finale episode of Seinfeld which generated an unprecedented community
at both local and global levels: bars and other public places advertised for mass participation, families and friends gathered
together around in the living room in front of the television set to
pay their last homage to Americas favorite comedy show, an
event that took on the character of becoming one of the most
important events in the history of television of this country, proving that people have more in common with those with whom
they have never interacted than with the face-to-face encounter
of which Levinas speaks in volumes as the mark of an ethical
relationship between the self and the other.
More people share the experience of watching television as a
common frame of reference than anything else in terms of human interaction, and more and more participate in what
Meyrowitz defines as the metaphysical arena: to watch television is to look into . . . the [common] experience . . . to see what
others are watching.16 For Meyrowitz, this virtual global space
sans geography defines locality more in terms of cultural iconography than the actual dictum of place, for here the populaces
transactions are conducted by a common experience whose
modulations are predicated upon systems of communication and
information networks.17 We all share, in global terms, a part of
our local experience in the virtual everyday gathering of kindred
soul-mates at an apportioned time to share in a collective ceremony; and in the isolation and privacy of our own soul each of
us find that we are sharing the same experience, the holy com-

Globalization: Making Geography Irrelevant


munion of collectively rooting for someone to win a million dollars and feel blessed (for what other ceremonies are observed in
their entirety aside from the midnight mass on New Years Eve
and the sporting eventsboth involving ritualistic global audiences) and, of course, simultaneously entertained, with a happy
afterthought that we were together at that epochal moment when
somebody won that million buckswhich was never meant for
us anyway, but still what a spectacle!
1. David Morley, Where the Global Meets the Local: Notes from the Sitting
Room, The Media Studies Reader, ed. OSullivan, Tim and Yvonne Jewkess.
(London: Arnold, 1997), 374.
2. Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects. (New York: Bantam Books, 1967), 63.
3. James Carey, Culture as Communication. (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 2
4. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies,
Dialogues, ed. Sarah Harasym. (New York: Routledge, 1990), 156.
5. Stuart Hall, What is Black in Black Popular Culture, Stuart Hall: Critical
Dialogues in Cultural, ed. Morley, David and Kuan-Hsing Chen. (London:
Routledge, 1996), 467.
6. Hall, 466.
7. Hall, 466.
8. Arjun Appadurai, Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Culture
Economy, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 32.
9. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism and Consumer Society, The Anti-Aesthetic:
Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster. (Seattle, Washington: Bay
Press, 1983), 111125.
10. Appadurai, 32.
11. Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and
the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. (New
York: Academic Press, 1976), 229233.
12. Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brain
Massumi. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
13. Ernst Renan, What is a Nation?, Nation and Narration, ed. Homi K. Bhabha.
(London: Routledge, 1990), 18.
14. Heather Cameron, Alphabet City, 6 (1998): 100.
15. Anthony Giddens, The Consequence of Modernity. (Stanford, California:
Stanford University Press, 1990), 64.
16. Cited in Morley, 375.
17. J. Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social
Behavior. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).