Arjun Appadurai and Critical Cultural Studies
- Swapnil RaiSwapnil RaiCenter for Contemporary South Asia, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
Globalization as a phenomenon was seen by scholars as a compression of the world, where the world comes together as a global village in thought and in action. Arjun Appadurai, in his theorization of globalization, challenges this view. He argues that globalization is primarily disjunctive, scalar, and contextual. He defines five basic landscapes that are about people and their migration (ethnoscapes), technology (technoscapes), media (mediascapes), ideology (ideoscapes) and finance (finanscapes). Globalization, according to Appadurai, occurs at the points of rupture and disjuncture between these different landscapes. In this context he defines “imagination as a social practice” and situates the work of imagination at the center of all globalization processes. Media flows decidedly play a large role in shaping the imagination, therefore mediascapes are critical to the understanding of globalization in any given context. Similarly, the flows of capital, of people, of ideologies and technology help create new imagined worlds that are fluid and capable of producing a “globally variable synesthesia.” That is, one type of imagined world can trigger similar imaginaries in other parts of the world, yet they possess different shapes and forms.
Appadurai’s theorization was later criticized for presenting too optimistic a view of globalization, for ignoring its dark side. So, in his later work Appadurai explores the “dark” side of globalization. In Fear of Small Numbers, he addresses the widespread global violence against minorities and uses Freud’s “anxiety of incompleteness” to explicate the majority group’s predatory behavior. Globalization has deepened this behavior and thought because it intensifies the possibility and related fear of the majority morphing into the minority and vice versa. Collective group identities, therefore, are forever under threat as “volatile morphing” becomes a reality brought about by rapid global migrations across national boundaries. Appadurai’s later work also points in the direction of hope by presenting the idea of grassroots globalization which is happening alongside the pervasive violence. Grassroots globalization is the idea of globalization from below that is done by non-governmental organizations and transnational advocacy networks that work toward redressing lack of access, injustice and inequity. Appadurai also offers scholars a new framework for how to do globalization research which is not fixated on its “internationalization” but is focused on questions and is inclusive of other worldviews and approaches from around the world.