Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, 1996

The rise of electronic media, global migrations of peoples, diverse financial systems and tools, along with other developing factors have led numerous academics to openly question the efficacy of the nation state. In dialogue with such discourses, Arjun Appardurai’s work, Mordernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization declares that “the nation-state, as a complex modern political form, is on its last legs.”(19). Built on the theoretical underpinnings of Foucault and Habermas while drawing upon the work of numerous anthropologists before him most notably Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and Clifford Geertz’s focus on meaning and representation, Modernity at Large attempts to incorporate the “work of the imagination as a constitutive feature of modern subjectivity.” (3)

Imagination as a source of agency constructing new transnational identities that no longer remain bound to nation-states functions as neither an “emanicpatory” or “disciplining” agent, but rather “a space of contestation in which individuals and groups seek to annex the global into their own practices of the modern.” (4) Eschewing culture as a noun , Appadurai favors the adjectival form identifying “culturalism” which fundamentally refers to “identity politics mobilized at the level of the nation-state.”(15). Constructing a theoretical apparatus made up of five distinctive “cultural flows” consisting of of ethnoscapes, mediascapes, financescapes, ideoscapes, and technoscapes, Appadurai suggests that though at times in agreement, these “scapes” frequently relate to one another disjunctively. People’s, nation-states, and others marshall public spheres and counterpublics to reimagine their own organizational or ethnic identities or as the author notes, they create “scripts” that allow for “imagined worlds” which may apply to their own existence or “those of others living in other places” (35).

Deterritorialization combined with the rise of electronic media contributes to the unmooring of the nation-state from traditionally defined nation based identities. Globalization unfolds in various ways, affecting various peoples in equally diverse manners. Moreover, the process of globalization fetishizes localities as “the globally dispersed forces that actually drive the production process” Appadurai cautions anthropologists, sociologists and historians to avoid imposing western historical models of capital development or democracy, noting that these new developments require more flexible and insightful analysis, since the growth of such concepts need not occur identically to European or American examples. Additionally, Modernity at Large critiques traditional western representations of ethnic violence as forms of “primordialism” or “tribalism” arguing such formations rest “crucially on the view of certain populations and polities as infantile and relies implicitly on some sort of germ theory of ethnic strife in Western democracies.” (143)

Modernity at Large clearly posits a transnational future but fails to suggest what new forms of international or transnational governmental or political developments appear adequately sustainable to maintain such structures. Additionally, Appadurai’s work traffics in language that few lay readers would find accessible, needlessly complicating arguments that could be stated more clearly and concisely.

Quotes from the original write up's footnotes

“the noun form has to do with its implication that culture is come kind of object, thing, or substance, whether physical or metaphysical.” (12)
“it brings laboring populations into the lower-class sectors and spaces of relatively wealthy societies, while sometimes creating exaggerated and intensified senses of criticism or attachment to politics in the home state.”
This generates alienation (in Marx's sense) twice intensified, for its social sense is now compounded by a complicated spatial dynamic that is increasingly global.” (42)

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