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Framing the Global

Illustration:  Watercolor and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Watercolor and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

With the rise of global studies and institutes, a new book has come along that features the research of diverse experts into differences between “global” and “international” studies. Framing the Global: Entry Points for Research (2014, Indiana University Press), edited by Hilary Kahn, Director of the Center for the Study of Global Change at Indiana University, includes a foreword by Saskia Sassen,  a specialist on globalization and human migration issues and Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and Centennial visiting Professor at the London School of Economics.

Each of its 14 chapters presents research that represents a different “entry point” into global studies.  These entry points are different slices of the reality of global interactions, much as traditional slices, such as economics, political science, and military affairs, have characterized distinct disciplinary approaches to “international studies” (or the studies of relations between nations).

The main point of this work seems to be that traditional disciplines and analytic methodologies do not produce global studies, though specialized regional and functional knowledge are necessary ingredients.  Major inherited categories of analysis can “veil or distort…our epoch…,” according to Sassen.  “The challenge is to make new categories that help us theorize the current conditions,” she writes.  “This book can then be read as an experiment in expanding the analytic terrain for understanding and representing what we have come to name globalization.”

Indeed, writes editor Kahn, global studies “does not have a master concept around which theory and method can take shape, like sociology has in society, or political science has in politics.” The emerging discipline of global studies “is a commitment to empirical research and search for previously unrecognized arrangements, patterns, and productive connections and disconnections,” writes Kahn. Such patterns and connections form the “entry points” for global research. Each heads up a different chapter, including “affect,” “displacement,” “forms,” “frames”, “genealogies,” “land,” “location,” “materiality,” “the particular,” “rights,” “rules, “scale,” etc.

Interestingly and perhaps overdue, this text challenges the methodological sufficiency of state-centric approaches to social sciences and analysis generally.  The concept of “global” as something which lies outside the “framing” of national issues is not accurate, according to Sassen:

“Many of our major current categories [of research and analysis] have inherited their status from a time and place when they emerged out of analytic work…My concern here with particularly with some of the major categories we use in the social sciences–economy, polity, society, justice, inequality, state, globalization, immigration.  They are all powerful in that they are widely used to explain the realities they represent.  Yet those realities are mutants…,” according to Sassen.

The “entry points” in subsequent chapters “have emerged in the course of each contributor’s engagement with existing approaches to global studies…,” according to Kahn.  These offer a “conceptual toolkit for global research in the twenty-first century” while investigating a wide range of themes, including global financial gold markets, transnational labor migration, public art in China, and the global significance of 1968.  Kahn emphasizes that the contributors to the book move beyond comparative approaches to “probe the complex interplay among locales, practices, policies, and people.”  “Relational comparisons” emphasize how entities are formed in relation to one another as well as vis-a-vis broader contexts.  “This shifts the focus from isolated units of inquiry to the transactions and relations in which they are constituted,” according to Kahn.

In a sense, these different entry points constitute alternative ontological frames, or ways of looking at the world.  The chapter on “Reframing Oceania” is particularly interesting for its reframing of the study of the Pacific, including the 28 nation-states considered to make up that region.  All of the chapters reveal sensitivity to issues of scale, flow, and subnational interconnectivity. All in all, there are at least 14 different ways to re-imagine the globe in this unique book.  It is not hard to imagine a whole new field of global scholarship emerging, one that references but does not depend upon traditional international relations concepts for its categories and “units” of analysis.  The entry points approach of this book, as Kahn notes, “slice reality differently, opening up new modes of understanding.”  Much to explore here!

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